Australian photojournalist, Andrew Quilty, has engaged a top Australian defamation team to take action against World Press Photo, after his invitation to the awards ceremony as a prize winner was withdrawn because of unspecified allegations of ‘inappropriate behaviour’.
World Press Photo ‘reputationally executed‘ the Gold Walkley Award-winning photojournalist in April by releasing a public statement referring to ‘misconduct’ – without giving any hint of what that misconduct related to!
‘The World Press Photo Foundation believes visual journalism needs its community to be united against discrimination and harassment,’ Lars Boering, managing director of the World Press Photo Foundation, told Columbia Journalism Review at the time. ‘Our protocol is that when we learn from reliable sources that someone associated with us has allegedly engaged in inappropriate behaviour we take action. Because of our protocol, we called him (Quilty) on April 2 to say he was not welcome at our Awards Show and Festival.’
Flights and accommodation were swiftly cancelled. So shocking was this ‘inappropriate behaviour’, in the view of the perennially-troubled WPP, that it would also have liked to have stripped him of his latest award.
‘…On the basis of the contest entry rules we do not currently have the grounds to do so. He received an award after the jury judged all entries anonymously, and the jury was not aware of his identity or his alleged misconduct when making the award. We will be reviewing our rules for the 2020 contest.’
Conspiracy of silence
The New York Times, Time, and National Geographic also jumped on the bandwagon, stating publicly they did not intend to work with the Australian in the future.
Yet nowhere is there a hint of what Andrew Quilty did wrong. ‘Inappropriate behaviour’ can mean any number of things, ranging from criminal activity through to, well, using a swear word.
The Columbia Journalism Review report either didn’t know what the inappropriate behaviour related to or, for reasons of its own, chose not to reveal it. Either way, this is appallingly irresponsible reporting from a publication which immodestly calls itself ‘The Voice of Journalism’. (Pompous? Moi!?)
The WPP has refused to provide any details whatsoever, making the whole ‘trial’ against the photojournalist seem unfair and dissociated from any notions of natural justice. But it turns out that even Quilty himself has been left in the dark as to what he may have done, or omitted to do, to deserve such severe punishment.
‘I am aware of recent media publications and statements regarding allegations of inappropriate conduct made against me,’ Quilty told Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph via his lawyer. ‘I would like to be clear that I still have not been made aware of the substance of any accusations nor the identity of the accuser.’ (It is now two months since his public shaming by WPP and CJR)
‘I have reached out to several parties requesting that I be given an opportunity to respond to any allegations and to be involved in any ongoing investigations, where I am prepared to address the accusations concerning my conduct as publicly and transparently as possible.’
No proper investigation appears to have been carried out by WPP to establish the veracity of the claims. None involving the Australian photographer, anyway.
A bid to clear his name
Having exhausted all other options, Quilty has taken the first steps towards legal action against the WPP.
Quilty’s legal team is defamation lawyer Rebekah Giles and barrister Sue Chrysanthou, who are representing Senator Sarah Hanson-Young in the defamation case against former Liberal Democrats Senator David Leyonhjelm.
‘I have and will continue to strenuously deny that I have ever engaged in any conduct that can be considered inappropriate and maintain that I have always treated people with dignity and respect,’ his statement says.
‘It is now apparent, that I am not being afforded procedural fairness into any ongoing investigations that concern my personal and professional reputation and I have now retained lawyers and taken the first steps towards legal action against the relevant parties.’
One of Quilty’s close friends confirmed the photographer is ‘completely baffled as to what he has allegedly done and who has made the complaint’.
The Sunday Telegraph contacted WPP and received the same statement about following ‘protocol’ to ‘take action’ when alerted to allegations of inappropriate behaviour.
Which begs the question, what exactly is the WPP’s so-called ‘protocol’? What does it look like? Where do they hide it?
Inside Imaging is unable to find any mention of ‘protocols’ on the World Press Photo website. It’s truly concerning that a prestigious media organisation has established some kind of protocol to ‘take action’ – in the form of swift public denunciation rather than a proper investigation – over unproven claims against an entrant. Or is the WPP just making it up as it goes along?
The WPP’s cavalier handling of the allegations are at complete odds with the level of transparency and attention afforded to entrants who go overboard with post-processing. For this they brought in independent forensic analysts.
Is there really a robust system of rules that forced the WPP to handle the Quilty allegations so callously? A ‘protocol’ that tarnishes the professional reputation of an award-winning and celebrated photojournalist, which will probably end in court, is a protocol that’s in desperate need of review. The 2020 rules can wait.
We have asked the WPP to supply a copy of its ‘protocol’. Watch this space. But please don’t hold your breath!