Security for top leaders is all very well, but officials should understand that photographers also need to do their work, writes Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro in Namibia's New Era.

Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro writes in New Era:

TOO often as editors we demand from our reporters and photographers nothing but the best. Not that there is anything inherently wrong in this.

However, what is wrong is that too often we are ignorant or oblivious of the trials and tribulations they endure for that headline-catching copy or that front-page picture from the best angle.

Not that reporters and photographers do not complain everyday about the treatment they receive from those who are supposed to be partners. Such lamentations usually seem to fall on deaf ears. Only until on the rare occasion when one or the other editor dares it in the field. That's when reality dawns like it did on me recently.

The occasion was the funeral of the late Ovambanderu Chief Munjuku II Nguvauva at Okahandja when I was born again. Not that I have been anything else but full of understanding that life out there is not a bed of roses for my fellow colleagues on the beat. But this time around I have full first-hand grasp of the endurance my fellows on the beat undergo, especially when covering events where State VIPs are involved, notably the Head of State.

Armed with nothing but my camera bag and all the usual gadgets of a reporter and of course my media card, I was to realise these were not enough.

A contingent of reporters numbering 10 or so was cramped into a metre radius space from where they had to push and shuffle for that best shot of the late chief's burial. Daring to move beyond this space was risking the wrath of the security apparatchiks. Not that the space the media contingent was privileged with, if privilege is the word, was the best in terms for the best shoot. To see what I mean may I refer you to the front-page picture in the Republikein of Monday, January 28 about the same event? There, the President and the Founding Father were pictured with the casket of the late chief.

I just hope that the photographer in question did not get the flak from his/her editor. He/she was not the only one to have made the occasion such a flop in terms of getting the best shot of the VIPs. My picture was also not far from his/hers. Though I would say mine seemed slightly better, still my editorial team was agreeable it was not front-page material. Please get me right, I am not talking about the subjects but the picture quality. Because like my Republikein colleague I had little space, angle and room for maneouvre to shoot from to be able to do justice to the honourables and their honourable images.

Yes, I agree that the men in black had a job to do. The security of our leaders is of paramount importance. I understand and appreciate. However, there should be balance between the two. If the media is not allowed to do its job properly at such occasions then I am sure they are better excused to prioritise their coverage of events. Most annoying is that these men in black apparently know best what the best angle for a picture is. Also two photographers from the security establishment seemed to enjoy more free space than the media roaming, as they wished unhindered to take their best shots. As long as the bona fides of media people have been cleared by both security and protocol, they are better left to roam around like anyone doing duty as they are also doing duty in their own right and respect. Regrettably too often media people at such occasions are left to the excesses of the security and protocol people who have little understanding of the needs of the media.

It would make our jobs easier if at such high security events we have someone not only directing us, meaning cramping us into little corners, but must also fight for our turf and facilitate our job. I would have thought this to be the duty of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting partly, not only to ensure that the media is notified of any official events but that their working environment at such events is conducive. But information officials are most of the time conspicuous by their absence and as a result media people are left to the heavy and usually not understanding mannerism of the security agents.

I think it would do our office-bound editors a world of good to get out and see the real world out there in which their reporters and photographers operate. The environment there may not be hostile but equally it is not the friendliest, not while the media is at the mercy of security. This job entails getting the best shot of His Excellency. A bad shot of the President may one day cost a photographer his/her job and security people may not be around to plea in his/her mitigation.

* This column was first published in New Era on 15 Feb, 2008.