Tesco really doesn’t like journalists

I just had a most interesting experience at Tesco in Watford. I went to take a picture with a mobile phone and was suddenly surrounded by burly security guards. Apparently it’s company policy that no one is to take pictures in Tesco, or even Tesco car parks. How odd!

Okay, it’s private property and they can make up whatever rules they like. If you need a shot of their pick and mix, you’ll need a long lens so you can stand on the road outside. But it begs the question, are they stark raving mad?

Luckily a manager turned up pronto (presumably someone pressed the panic alarm), and I persuaded her to send the security people away while she explained – in fact the outcome was very satisfactory from my perspective, and should I ever need to speak to a manager within 30 seconds again, I now have a sure-fire method.

As a long-time hack, I know what I’m about when it comes to taking pictures. Normally, when you’re taking photographs with a camera on a mobile phone, it’s pretty clear you’re not doing so for commercial reasons and it’s unusual for anyone to complain. Okay, if I had my big press camera with me, I’d certainly have asked permission to photograph/film. Or I’d have used a hidden camera. But it wasn’t like that – in fact I was shooting the contents of my shopping trolley as a record – obviously domestic use only, and I even mentioned to a member of staff nearby that I was getting a shot of that if he had no objections.

So can they do this? Well it’s not illegal. They can make up any rules they like about who can and who can’t enter their premises and if they want to ban people taking photographs, they can. They could get a court order and bar you from every Tesco store in the country. What they can’t do (if this happens to you) is make you delete any photographs you have already taken, and neither can they touch you or your camera – that’s common assault.

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But why should it come to this? Surely Tesco doesn’t hate journalists? Actually, I doubt they even realised. But on asking around, they have form in this respect. Had of Patrick Collinson’s experiences I’d have been prepared, but he was writing in The Guardian when he was nabbed for noting down prices.

So is this a one store going bonkers (I’ve not had any bother at my local Tesco, although don’t often shop there these days)? I set out to find a security guard who’d talk, and it didn’t take long (but he’s not from Watford, in case anyone from Tesco is reading this!)

Apparently, the only photographs allowed are general ones of the exterior of the shop. If you’re audacious enough to snap something specific, like and advert, or one of their products, they’re instructions are to “ask you why, and ask you to stop”. Obviously the “why” is out of politeness. And if you’re inside the shop, forget it! You need special permission from the duty manager, sign-in and have to wear a visitor’s badge. Want to shoot some grocery or other and send it to your other half for approval? Not in Tesco, you don’t.

It gets worse! Should you try this and then refuse to stop, Tesco security is instructed to detain you, call the cops and try to have you charged under Blair’s masterpiece, the Prevention of Terrorism Act [2005]. [I think he may be confusing this with Regulation of Investigatory Power Act 2000]. Boggle! I asked if he thought someone was pulling his leg, but apparently Tesco reckons that people taking pictures may be doing so in order to choose locations for placing bombs. They had some bother in 2007 with bomb hoaxes, and therefore this policy is for “our” protection. Somehow, without photographs, it must be very difficult to leave a bomb behind. Doesn’t that make you feel safer?

Or perhaps they’re still smarting after that youtube video of the horseburger skit.

I’ve written to Tesco for a clarification of this, but they have so far declined to comment. I certainly can’t find anything to suggest this is a genuine policy in writing, and I don’t recall every seeing any “no photograph” signs up. But the my source was adamant. Perhaps it’s a myth. I hope so. One incident like this, or  Patrick Collinson’s won’t damage their business much in itself, but every little helps.

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