Authorities protect public taste with a document

Photo by Attila Volgyi /

Photo by Attila Volgyi /

I got involved in a very interesting debate with a few colleagues about photographing the recovery of the capsised and sank passanger boat Mermaid. Some of them were complaining for  some of his “really good” photos not getting published because TEK (short name for Hungary’s Counter Terrorism Centre) banned them.
At first I fofund it strange TEK had some clauses about honouring the dignity of accident victims. I didn’t believe it needs to be told. I maybe even considered it to be overanxsious they printed a document for members of the media to be signed. This dispute however made me understand the fact that some people need to be told not to be disrespectful.

TEK made us sign a document to be allowed near the accident site and be able to take photos. In this document they summarised to the general laws on media reportage and emphasised the current situation’s legal and funerary aspects. To be allowed onto the area closed off from public and be able to directly see the recovery procedures every media worker had to sign this document in acknowledgement of being informed about the regulations and responsibility of coverage.s

In most cases I strongly oppose all reduction of press freedom or attempt to influence media coverage. Regardless it is done by restricting access to press conferences, wilful hardening working conditions of the media, censoring and permission restricting some articles or even asking for free photos or other compensation or simply banning photography and handing out censored images. In this case however I cannot think the “power” made any bad move. Especially as their statement required from media workers didn’t contain any additional requirements that aren’t already written into law, making them mandatory without this document. All this is just about informing media workers what regulations they have to obey (anyway) in the current situation. Just like with contracts usually they practically protected themselves to be able to tell, they made everything possible to keep media coverage in a reasonable manner – without unnecessary restrictions.

Time-lapse of bringing up boat Mermaid from the riverbed
Click the image for the time-lapse!

I don’t see any problem with the authorities emphasizing the responsibility of media workers for the content of their coverage. Even if this means a soft pressure to make you think about not to make any dumb thing or it may have consequences. In this situation I cannot interpret it as a negative move or one going against the public interest. I cannot really think of any pictures I would be interested in seeing that cannot be published following these guidelines – or anyone should miss not seeing them them.

Photo by Attila Volgyi /

Some colleagues talked at the event about “here a leg is hanging out” or “there a corpse wasn’t fully covered”, etc. We also discussed with some colleagues if it is a mistake to photograph these or it is part of the job to document everything and then later we and the editors can decide what to show from this and what not to. (Of course it is much harder in the current times of live coverages, especially on live TV broadcast.)
We may also debate if it is a professional mistake when I didn’t even want to take a photo of visible corpses and bodyparts. I don’t really want to take such pictures if this is required from me (except of course working for police or other first responder organisations not media – of course they too may use them only for documenting for them not for publication). I don’t even show all my photos I took during the process – especially not in social media…

Authorities didn’t even ban to photograph anything. They mentioned there may be moments when they will tell us to put down the cameras and not to take any photos. This might have had changed my mind about their restrictions, but it didn’t happen (at least I didn’t hear such order or request, neither from the police officers present nor from colleagues who would hear such). I  can imagine, but would rather not describe the scene what would make me agree even with such a strict ban of coverage. In the statement however they only point out to work with responsibility and abiding by the laws. This is not at all an over control or censorship in the current situation.
I even talked to more colleagues who explicitly think the Counter Terrorism Centre (TEK) was extremely cooperative and helpful with media. As much as the situation allowed they gave up to date infurmations, made statements and gave interviews as needed, held regular press conferences. Even it is a big thing they allowed media to go to the bridge right above the crash site. Not to mention they didn’t restrict our work to a small area, but opened most of the South side of the bridge for us to work and move freely as we see it fit. They couldn’t do everything flawlessly and even I had some difficulties because of it, but in general they did really well. In many things they over performed and could be an example for even the media officials who work regularly with media and in more controlled and calm situations. Especially considering Counter Terrorism Centre is by origin a more secretive and closed institute not really welcoming for the interest of media.

TEK statement
Only signing this allowed journalists to cover the recovery works.

Statement required by the Counter Terrorism Centre (original English version provided by them):

I, the undersigned name:
place and date of birth:mother’s name:
name and data of the media content provider:

certify that I conduct the press coverage (hereafter: the activity) of the search and rescue mission – in particular, the lifting operation of the wreck from underwater – of the vessel „Hableány”that was involved in a water accident in Hungary, Budapest, on the river Danube near the Margaret bridge on the 29th of May, 2019, at 9:05 PM (hereafter: water accident) to my liability, according to the following.

While executing the activity, I will comply with the laws and provisions of Hungary regarding media content regulations and professional rules, in particular the Act CIV of 2010 and its provisions on the Freedom of the Press and the Fundamental Rules of Media Content (hereafter: Smtv). I conduct this activity voluntarily, on my own will, independently of any outside influence.
I acknowledge that based on the 21. § (1) paragraph of the Smtv, the media provider isheld responsible for complying with the laws.
I hereby certify that I am eligible in every aspect to carry out the activity and I am in the possession of the required documents.
I hereby certify that I have received the required information from the authorities in charge of the rescue mission of the water accident regarding the site and the safe fulfilment of the activity and I am aware of the risk factors of carrying out the activity; I conduct the activity on my own free will, on my own responsibility.

: 1101 Budapest, Zách utca 4. 1903 Budapest, Pf. 314.: 265-6200 BM: 69-000: 265-6209 BM: 69-009:
I hereby acknowledge that while conducting the activity, I cannot obstruct, nor can I risk the rescue operations of the water accident; should I express any behaviour of the sort, for that and the consequences of those actions I am to be held completely responsible.
While conducting the activity I am bound to comply with the authorities in charge of the rescue operations of the water accident, and to fully comply with the regulations regarding the media providers specified during the course of the professional briefing, as well as with the orders received from the individuals in charge of the rescue operations of the water accident at the site. I hereby acknowledge that, should I not comply with these rules, it shall result in me being legally removed from the site immediately.
I hereby acknowledge that I am to leave the enclosed area, the area reserved for media providers marked by barriers while the rescue operation of the water accident is in effect, or until the approval of the individuals in charge of the rescue operations of the water accident at the site, exclusively on my own responsibility.
I hereby acknowledge that the authorities in charge of the rescue operations of the water accident are not responsible for any damage sustained by my equipment while conducting the activity.
I hereby acknowledge that the authorities are not responsible for any accident that happens to me while conducting the activity, save for the occasions in which the cause of the accident can be traced back to any activity or omission of the authorities.
Should I fall within the scope of point a of paragraph 1. of article 6. of the regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 April 2016 on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data and the repealing Directive 94/46/EC (General Data Protection Regulation), I consent to the use of my personal data according to this declaration in connection with the conduction of the activity. I hereby acknowledge that my consent is in effect until I withdraw it. I have acknowledged the information regarding the rights of the concerned party.
I hereby acknowledge that should I not comply with the regulations written above or should I express behaviour that would pose a threat to myself or others, the authorities in charge of the rescue operations of the water accident are authorised not to grant the opportunity for me to continue conducting the activity, while also removing me from the site.
By signing this document I certify that I read the announcement written above in its entirety, acknowledged its content and I unrestrictedly agree with it. I hereby declare that the above information is correct.
Budapest, 11. 06. 2019.

In the Hungarian version of this post you find the exact legal excerpts from the corresponding paragraphs of the law. I skip quoting them in this English version as I don’t have their English version at hand and I would rather not go into debates if I can translate it well enough. I don’t think it would be so important for the non Hungarian speaking audience.

Error thrown

Cannot unset string offsets