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Are Belfast photos staged for media?

By a staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / May 6, 1981



Belfast

A news photographer from France posed a youngster with an IRA flag in front of a burning bus and urged him to wave while he took pictures. Unknown to the photographer, CBS TV cameraman Kurt Hoeffle filmed the entire sequence -- one of a number of instances here in which photographers from various countries were accused of staging pictures or in some cases offering to pay for violence while they waited for the death of Bobby Sands.

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The night before Mr. Sands died, police were checking all photographers seen on the streets of west Belfast after reports that Canadian, French, and Australian film crews were paying youths to throw petrol bombs.

Government officials were told that the going rate to children was 10 pence ( 21 cents) per thrown brick, and L1 ($2.10) per a petrol bomb.

A Finnish TV crew was reported to have set up cameras in an upstairs room in a tenement. It arranged a bogus call to police alleging a break-in, then calmly filmed police as they burst into the room. The crew was not arrested, but police were angry.

It was also reported that French and Australian TV crew members had been seen offering money to young Catholics to throw bombs and in one case to set fire to a bus.

This reporter could not confirm these cases personally, but government officials said they were convinced from police and other sources that the incidents had taken place. Peter Robinson, the deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, said police told him of at least one case.

The incidents, which raise basic questions about press responsibilities here, alarmed legitimate cameramen and TV crews. They called a meeting at unofficial press headquarters at the Europa Hotel late May 4 and urged their colleagues to stop.

Now that actual rioting has begun following Mr. Sands' death, the issue may blow over. Photographers warn, however, that some free-lancers had been tempted to stage pict ures before May 5, planning to send them out to agencies, newspapers, and magazines as though taken later.