In a story about a disturbed man who walked nude outside a shopping mall, the Herald-Mail of Hagerstown, Maryland, describes its employee's confrontation with a Wal-Mart employee. The Wal-Mart security man demanded that the newspaper man turn over his camera, which he correctly refused to do.
At the end of the story is this on Wal-Mart's photo policy:
Wal-Mart's policy that all photos taken on its property must be approved in advance includes breaking news coverage, company spokeswoman Christi Gallagher said.Now Wal-Mart isn't alone in this kind of corporate authoritarianism. Just pull out a camera inside a typical Starbucks and you'll discover this.
The company requires the media - or anyone else - to get approval before taking pictures in Wal-Mart stores or on Wal-Mart property, she said.
Asked if journalists photographing unexpected news, such as a fire, need the same permission, Gallagher said they do.
After hours, a journalist should call the company's 24-hour corporate hotline before taking pictures, she said.
Telling someone that it's unacceptable to record actual news doesn't pass the laugh test, not in the real world, and not just for the compelling reason that freedom of expression should trump an organization's control freakery. From a simple technological perspective, the task is impossible.
It won't be long before nearly everyone is carrying a camera in a mobile phone. And it's getting easier to install cameras, nearly invisibly and increasingly inexpensively, in clothing (scroll down to the "Body Worn Cameras" on this spy shop's camera page for some creepy evidence).
Keeping secrets is getting difficult enough with the spread of digital cameras. The Pentagon and White House learned this after the torture at Abu Grhaib became public knowledge.
I'm not comfortable with the privacy-invading aspect of this. But for newsmakers in business and government, face the fact: Ultra-controlling, old-school media policies are less than pointless. They are counterproductive.
Anyway, here's a promise. If I spot a Wal-Mart burning, I'm going to take a picture, post it immediately on the Web and send a copy to the local newspaper. If you spot news happening, I urge you to do the same.