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Magnum in damage control over David Alan Harvey allegations

Magnum Photos has launched further investigations into suspended photojournalist, David Alan Harvey, and will reveal its ‘confidential’ members’ Code of Conduct, after a series of allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced in late December.

Several allegations of inappropriate behaviour by David Alan Harvey have emerged in what’s been described as an ‘open industry secret’.  Photo: Christoper Michel. (Wikipedia)

Magnum suspended Harvey for one year in October 2020, after an independent investigation into an ill-defined single ‘historical allegation’. While Magnum concluded that Harvey breached its Code of Conduct and By-Laws, the organisation provided minimal information relating to the allegations and investigation process.

At the time, Inside Imaging reported: ‘There’s no word on who is the investigator or outside legal counsel, how Harvey’s behaviour breached his Magnum agreement, and why the board decided a one year suspension was an appropriate punishment. These are the typical ‘who, what, when, why, and how’ questions that serve as the bedrock of journalism, which a photojournalism institution like Magnum would surely hold sacred.’

Magnum also refused to publish its members’ six-page Code of Conduct due to it being a ‘confidential human resources document’. With pressure mounting to be more transparent, this decision was puzzling – such documents typically outline a straightforward set of professional standards, ethical principles, and values which aren’t known for being contentious or outrageous. Magnum president, Olivia Arthur, later stated they were worried the Code of Conduct would be ‘put on trial by Twitter’, which suggests something in the code may raise a few eyebrows.

Despite Magnum receiving just one official complaint against Harvey, it turns out there are many young female photographers who claim to have been harassed or abused by him. These allegations appear in a scathing 11,000-word Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) exposé, titled Magnum’s Moment of Reckoning. In the article, two alleged victims said they rejected an invitation to assist Magnum’s first investigation, as they didn’t trust the collective’s ability to conduct a credible investigation. Others weren’t aware an investigation was taking place.

‘This is stuff that happened in the past that’s very traumatising and upsetting,’ Harvey’s unnamed former assistant, who claims to have experienced and witnessed Harvey commit multiple instances of inappropriate behaviour, said in the CJR report. ‘I don’t want some cold call from someone I don’t know saying this is my duty to do and I should trust them. No – why would I trust them? They’ve been so secretive, they wouldn’t even release their Code of Conduct. That’s insane to me.’

The article is written by Kristen Chick, an activist journalist who has covered other instances of the sexual harrassment in photojournalism. It’s a thoroughly-researched account of how an accomplished photojournalist may have used a position of power in various ways to take advantage of young and aspiring female photographers. Chick interviewed 11 women, who over a 13-year period alleged they experienced misconduct by Harvey, ranging from ‘suggestive comments to unwanted sexual advances to masturbating without their consent on video calls’.

US photojournalist and ethics activist, Amanda Mustard, along with the former assistant, said Harvey’s behaviour toward young photographers is an open secret in the industry. In 2013 a colleague warned Mustard not to visit Harvey’s home to show him work, and she’s since been made aware of other women who have been ‘abused’ by Harvey. Mustard went public on Twitter with the allegations, prompting Magnum to approach Mustard to contribute to the first investigation. After Mustard queried the lawyer heading the process, she decided not to participate.

‘Magnum has done very little publicly or in that email [sent to me] to prove that they’re committed to anything more than strategic corporate crisis management,’ Mustard said. ‘So much more needs to be done to regain our trust and rebuild integrity, when they’ve had such a huge hand in creating this toxic culture.’

Following the CJR article, Magnum is attempting to regain trust by launching a more transparent investigation. This time around they’re stating who will oversee the independent investigation, and have committed to publishing the code of conduct in the coming weeks.

Here are a few excerpts from Olivia Arthur’s latest statement:

As Magnum’s President and CEO, we care deeply about creating an organisation where everyone feels welcomed and able to succeed free from harassment and discrimination of any kind. Today we are opening a new independent investigation into the allegations of inappropriate conduct by David Alan Harvey made recently in the Columbia Journalism Review. This will be carried out externally and independently by Susie Al-Qassab, a partner at UK law firm, Hodge Jones & Allen (HJA).

The investigation will reach out to all those we are aware of who have spoken publicly, and we encourage anyone else who has concerns to get in touch as well, whether in relation to Mr. Harvey, any other Magnum photographer, or team member.

As we strive to improve, we realise that being more transparent about our processes is a key part of building confidence in Magnum. We will therefore be publishing Magnum’s code of conduct in the coming weeks. We understand now that not making this available last year contributed to some people’s reluctance to come forward, and we are sorry for not realising this sooner.

An open letter signed by almost 700 individuals – primarily photographers, academics, students, and curators – was released following Magnum’s latest statement calling on the collective to do more. ‘To build the trust required for the proposed investigation to commence with any measure of success however, Magnum Photos must release their code of conduct and any other relevant information related to the investigation process as soon as possible, and certainly much before the investigation closes,’ the statement says.

‘As the promised investigation unfolds, we call on Magnum Photos to go beyond crisis-management methods; to not allow time, bureaucratic and legal limitations to get in the way; to not once again place the entire burden of proof on survivors, but instead to seek every possible alternative while gathering evidence and witness testimonies,’ the letter says. ‘We call on Magnum Photos to demonstrate moral courage and leadership beyond this case, by taking proactive and reparative steps towards setting new institutional precedents and standards.’

Magnum has attempted to align itself with progressive values in recent years, with aims of becoming an industry leader in this area. Introducing the Code of Conduct in 2018 was one step toward this direction, along with recruiting more female photojournalists into its ranks, which has historically consisted primarily of white males –  including Harvey who joined in 1997.

Harvey, via his lawyer, chose not to respond to CJR‘s request for comment.

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