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The perils of being a press photographerPublish Date: Mar 29, 2014
The perils of being a press photographer
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Today, the public at large has become more tolerant of press photographers
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By Kalungi Kabuye

The death of New Vision photographer Mubiru Kakebe last week has brought into sharp focus the trial and tribulations that press photographers face as they do their work. The debate as to whether the woman that attacked him was right or wrong has raged all over the airwaves, in newspapers and all over social media.

Incredibly there have been members of the public in support of the woman attacker, that she was right to defend her ‘right not to be photographed’. That shows not only just how ignorant and uneducated the Ugandan public is, but just how much we do not appreciate an orderly society.

How can you claim that you’re ‘defending your right to privacy in a public place’? Even the biggest moron will surely laugh at that, but some woman called in to a radio station and that was the argument she put forward. She insisted that she too, would have attacked the photographer. She claimed not to be aware that assaulting somebody was against the law, and that a broken beer bottle can be described as a deadly weapon.

But enough of the dumb and dense Ugandans, the really sad thing is that Mubiru (right) died when in reality the public at large had become more tolerant of press photographers. Just a few years ago all those pictures in Bukedde and other tabloids of women wearing extremely short skirts would not exist.

Everywhere we turned somebody was asking if we had permission to take photographs. Like the woman in a really weird outfit at a concert who insisted that the photographer had taken her picture ‘by force’. In between our efforts to fend off her friends and a guy that claimed to be a soldier, we laughed at her choice of words.

When the so-called soldier insisted on arresting the photographer, we and all the video guys present turned out lights on him, and he soon disappeared with his weirdly dressed woman.

Those days you couldn’t even take a picture of an accident scene, without a policeman asking if you had permission from the OC of the nearest police station. Many press photographer spent nights at police units, accused of taking photographs ‘illegally’. Others had their cameras smashed by unruly security men.

A few of the incidents were funny, like when a colleague found workmen trying to clear a blocked sewer and decided to take a photograph. He was so engrossed in his work he didn’t notice that one of the guys had crept behind him with a bucketful of the horrible stuff, which he proceeded to empty over his head. Even his camera was covered in the stuff.

Another time during one of those frequent UTODA strikes, the same photographer noticed that an army tractor was doing taxi business, so he took a picture. He had to race ahead of the tractor all the way from Kasubi to town, but he did make page one the next day. We never did find out what happened to the driver of that tractor.

But most of the animosity from the security agencies died off when President Museveni said in a speech that will the available satellite technology, arresting people for taking pictures was not very brilliant. Now with Google available on any smart phone, and with anybody with a phone able to take a picture of anything, it is even dumber.

But there will still remain dumb folks like that woman who is now on the run, and the even dumber ones that would defend her.

A photographer feels very vulnerable with a camera in his hands, and will do everything to protect it. Which is what most likely Mubiru did and ended being cut on the arm. But I wish he had put that camera away and, citing self-defense, kicked that woman into the lake.

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