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Guardian recruits citizen journalists to cover Climate Camp

Hi-tech democracy - or old-fashioned wages cut?

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Relationships between the Guardian newspaper and professional photojournalists look set to worsen next week, as the Guardian uses Flickr to recruit Climate Camp protesters as unpaid freelance photographers.

Critics have claimed that this raises issues of partiality – questioning whether the Guardian would meekly accept a photo-montage of a key news event provided by the police - whilst some journalists have objected that this initiative coincides rather suspiciously with a move by the Guardian to stop paying re-use fees for photo-images.

The first issue here is that the Climate Camp organisers have a record of attempting to control publicity. The rationale for micro-managing press access to the Camp appears to stem from a not wholly unfounded suspicion of the "corporate" press. The end result, whereby journalists are required to register on arrival, sign up to a code of conduct, and then agree to be accompanied as they wander around by a media "buddy" has been compared ironically to the worst excesses of North Korean news management.

This year, journalists are permitted access for eight hours a day – between 10 am and 6 pm - as opposed to the one hour allowed in previous years. However, minders will still be there to guide reporters in the direction of staged "news" stories (stunts and direct action) as opposed to allowing them to get on and do their job.

It is against this background that the Guardian decision to set up a Flickr group, entitled Camp for Climate Action 2009. According to the invite to members: "We would like to invite your photo submissions to help document the 2009 Camp for Climate Action"

The Guardian admin on Flickr adds: "Are you taking part or have you captured a passing protest? Share your photos of climate camping in this group."

No doubt this felt like a good idea at the time, giving the Guardian picture desk access to a large pile of material that would not be available otherwise. There is a disclaimer of sorts: "We're not intending to use these pictures online or in print unless they are specifically in connection with this Flickr group." This may herald a future Guardian Flickr Climate Camp feature – or simply mean that any pictures used by the Guardian from this heap will be attributed to the Flickr group.

Quite apart from issues of bias, there is the unhappy co-incidence of a new contract issued by the Guardian to its photo-journalists on 28 July. Objectors to this contract say that the Guardian intends no longer to pay photographers for reuse of photographs.

Writing on his blog, NUJ Left member Jonathan Warren says: "This means that the Guardian will be allowed to use photographs as many times as they like and syndicate them to other news organisations in perpetuity without having to pay the photographer any more than the original fee for the photographs. Photographers rely on reuse fees to earn a living."

A petition asking Chris Elliot, Managing Editor, Guardian News and Media to think again and enter into meaningful talks with the NUJ has now been set up on iPetitions.

The NUJ is also calling on journalists to demonstrate next week. The demonstration will take place at 9.30am on Tuesday 1 September outside the offices of the Guardian at Kings Place, near Kings Cross Station. ®

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