Friday, August 24, 2012

Press pass - A phony IDea


One of the topics I see come up every once in a while on photo blogs and forums is the use of a phony press identification card to gain access to events. The idea is simple enough and, on the surface, sounds harmless enough. It also doesn't require a lot of clever skills to create a fake press ID.

A few questions came to mind while reading some of these blogs and forums.  What are some of the most common types of identification cards? Why would you want to have a fake press ID? What are the repercussions of using that fake ID? What are the laws governing identification cards in general? Here are a few points I discovered in my search for some of these answers.

First let's define what a press ID is, and also what it is not. In simple terms, a press ID is an identification card that tells the viewer of the card that you work for a specific media outlet. The media outlet can be any company that collects and disseminates information of a newsworthy nature. It could be a big news corporations such as the Associated Press and Reuters, with thousands of reporters and photojournalists all over the globe, or smaller services like a local newspapers, magazines or television station.

Then there are the hundreds of thousands of micro outlets that we may not really consider as valid outlets. Take your favorite blog sites you frequent for instance. The stories have to come from somewhere. Somebody has to collect, check, write, edit and publish the information your read. Bigger blogs are like small magazines or newspapers of yesterday with their own reporting staff.

Even my own little corner of the blogging world falls in the category of a media outlet. After all, I do report on current events within the scope of the group. So technically I can, as owner of this site, issue myself (or anyone writing for me) an identification card (see image above) that states I am a staff reporter/photographer for "My Photo Spot".

While it identifies me as a (valid) reporter or photographer for a (reputable) media outlet, it is not a press pass giving me free reign to come and go into restricted areas without permission. I can not use that ID to, let's say, get into the next big name arena concert or ring side at a major sporting event. I also can not use it to muscle myself on to the favored side of a police barricade.

What are some of the most common types of identification cards? The most commonly recognized types of IDs are state or government issued identification cards. To make an ID valid it typically has your name and a current photo. Additional information such as address, date of birth or card specific info is determined by the use of the card. Here is a short list of some of the most commonly seen types of ID cards;
  • State Driver's License (allows the bearer to operate a motor vehicle)
  • State Issued Identity Card (proves the bearer is a resident of that state)
  • Gun (Pistol) Permit (authorizes the bearer to own and use permitted weapons)
  • Military Identity Card (gives the bearer access to military sites)
  • Passport (proves the bearer is a resident of a certain nation and has the right to travel abroad)
  • Government Employment Identity Card (identifies bearer as a government employee including law enforcement)
Then there are ID cards that are issued by employers. These cards are location or job specific, meaning they are not really valid outside of their scope of use. Some of these types include the following;
  • Security Access Card (provides the bearer access to restricted or sensitive areas)
  • Employment Identity Card (proves the bearer works for a particular company)
  • Temporary or Visitor Identity Card (gives the bearer limited restricted access to specific sites)
Press passes fall under that last category. A press pass gives the bearer limited or restricted access to a specific event. For example, journalists covering the olympics were given press passes to access very specific sites or events. It identified them to the olympic security team as valid (and reputable) members of the press with special permission to record the events.

Why would you want to have a fake ID? Having a press ID has a certain appeal. It gives the wearer a certain air of authority and, to an uninitiated person, it validates the bearer as a legitimate photographer who is (obviously) doing his/her job for some company. Specially if you do not work for an outlet that would allow you to legitimately have access to specific events. Let's face it, if you saw someone with an expensive camera and a legit looking ID hanging from their vest you wouldn't get in the way or ask questions. The gamble is that authority figures wouldn't ask either.

What are the repercussions of using a fake ID? If you are caught using a fake ID to gain access to restricted areas the punishment can be varying and it can be severe. At best you can simply be kicked out of the venue. However, higher profile events take these breaches of security much more seriously and punishment can be anything from trespassing charges and breech of peace to false impersonation and forgery which are federal offenses. Then there are civil suits that can be laid against you for 'damages' and 'theft of service'. Big name concerts and professional sports events are two groups that would come down hard on a forged ID.

What are the laws governing identification cards in general? The laws about ID cards are actually very loose. You can have an ID card that states you are a member of the Rebel Alliance fighting the evil Empire, complete with photo, rank and anything else you want. That doesn't mean it will be accepted anywhere. Well, maybe at a sci-fi convention, but that's about it. Even then it's recognized as a gag ID.

Anyone can issue an ID card for any purpose. What makes an ID card valid is the method and circumstance in which it is used. The sales clerk at the local mall could care less about a Yale student ID card however, the Yale campus security guard does.

Having a legitimate press ID card does have its benefits, so long as you play by the rules and follow the proper channels. A legitimate press ID identifies you as being a working reporter/photographer for an established media outlet. It opens access to venues and events you couldn't get otherwise, such as back stage access or front row access, etc. However, it takes more than just the ID. Having material to back up your claim is a must. Specially if the organization or event you want to photograph runs a background check.

If your claim is accepted and you check out as being a valid reporter/photographer, the organization will then issue you a press pass for that event. The press pass is what actually allows you access to these prime spots the general public will not have access to. The interesting thing is that many places will issue press passes with little hassle. All you have to do is ask what the process is and be willing to offer something in return. Many venues, specially smaller ones, desperately want the free publicity a reporter can offer.

But what if you don't work for a media outlet? Freelancer's can get the same benefits. Tell them you are a freelancer working on speculation. The worst that can happen is they can tell you 'no'. If that doesn't work, try hitting up the performer or manager (if it's a concert) or the coach or player (if it's a game) of smaller events. Having a few of these 'legit' events under your belt can lead to bigger things. You may have to offer up some free pictures for the privilege but the returns can be rewarding. You never know if it leads to a paying gig in the future.

So if you are thinking of pulling a fast one with a fake ID, you may want to think twice. Reputations are easy to destroy. Specially if you are looking to gain experience or employment in the field of photojournalism or event photography.

2 comments:

  1. If you work for yourself as a freelancer, how then do you obtain a press pass? Do you make one, or would that be classed as fake ID? How else can you get one that states the name of your venture if you don't make it yourself...If you pay one of these companies to make you one, is that not classed as fake. I don't see the difference. Its not official ID, it only names you and what you do, i.e. Photographer....I think its just another way for someone to make money.

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  2. Freelance work is a different animal in itself. Freelancers can work on spec or part time for an established venue or publication. If you work on spec you will have to sweet talk someone to issue you a press pass for special events. If you're hired as a freelancer by a venue or publication it is their job to make sure you are issued the proper credentials. A pass is only fake if you make a forgery of one and do not have a legitimate claim to use it.

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