Photojournalism in Benin

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This little understood discipline is vital to establishing a professional press industry. Here, the author takes a look at the situation in Benin in a discussion with industry insider, Erick Ahounou.

It is not hard to find people willing to discuss press photographers – or photojournalists, as they prefer to call themselves. Erick Ahounou, professional photographer and President of the ANARIB, (National association of image reporters in Benin) which looks after the interests of photojournalists, caricaturists and cameramen, is the perfect spokesman.
Photojournalists are faced with various problems, which often arise from a lack of understanding, by magazine and newspaper management or editors, for whom the issues hardly seem newsworthy. Nevertheless, the press in general would gain considerably from taking a closer, more objective, look at the photojournalists’complaints.
The photojournalists feel that their work is given little consideration and is seen as a mere gap-stop, with preference being given to the articles. However, the photographers argue, a good photo can sell the paper just as well, and sometimes even better than, the cover story. Here Eric Ahounous cites the example of the infamous photo of President Mathieur Kerekou wiping his forehead when it was announced that he would run in the 1991 presidential elections. When he lost the election, this photo came to represent the end of his all-powerful reign and his disorientation. The Forum de la Semaine, which ran this photo on the cover, rapidly sold out and had to be reprinted.
Very often the photo will be thought of after the article has been researched. Either a photo is freely donated as the article is being written, or a photographer will be asked if they have something in their archives that could do the job. Sometimes, if the newspaper’s photo library is well stocked, this may be an option. Understandably, adding the photo at the end of the whole process can be problematic. The photo is likely to be inappropriate – for example, the subject may appear far younger than they really are, creating an odd time warp, or they may be smiling when the situation is very serious and vice versa. Otherwise, the same photo may also be used for articles about women and children. The same old photos are sometimes used day in, day out, year in, year out, rendering them worthless!
Photographic illustration is seriously under-rated by the press.
Remunerating photos
Payment is a somewhat contentious subject and has been a source of confusion since private papers have come on the scene. Unlike their government-owned counterparts, commercial papers rarely employ permanent in-house photographers, a fact which raises the issue of payment.
According to Erick Ahounou, any attempts to set up a rate system similar to those in place in Dakar and Abidjan have come up against a brick wall. Therefore, rates of 3,000 FCFA for a quarter-page photo and 10,000 FCFA for a half-page photo are completely unheard of. On average, a quarter-page is paid 500 FCFA, although certain papers such as Les Echos du Jour pay more. Le Citoyen tried using half and even 3/4-page photos without success.
The biggest remuneration issue concerns the fact that the photos are often re-used. Subsequent insertions are rarely remunerated, much to the dismay of the photographers, who say that they intial payment does not cover the time, effort and expense s involved in producing the photo. This is compounded by the recent practice of scanning photos from the paper that has paid for them, for use in other papers that have not paid for them.
The solution: awareness and education
Faced with these problems, which are extremely detrimental to its members, ANARIB hopes to provide support to the press in the form of seminars on the role of photographers with the editorial team, or on photographic copyrights, to raise awareness of these important issues. The association is even hoping to publish a « school paper » with the seminars to document the various propositions for improving the working relationship between the photographic journalists and the editorial team.
ANARIB also recommends that – parallel to the awareness campaign – the photographers register their photos with the BUBEDRA (Benin copyright office) so that necessary action can be taken.
The awareness campaign has to be the first step, since the professional Beninese press industry is still fledgling and financially fragile. The photojournalists and editorial staff are in the same boat and must strive for solidarity and mutual understanding for the endeavour to succeed.

Monique Phoba is a documentary filmmaker. She was born in the DRC and lives in Benin. Ms Phoba regularly contributes to the local press in a column called « médiastylo », from which this article was drawn.///Article N° : 5533

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