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Oh dear - I spy!

2005-08-05 13:40

John Oxley

"I've got the most extraordinary thing to tell you," he drawled in his delightfully refined English accent.

And extraordinary it was.

Someone at Porsche, it seems, is most upset that Wheels24 carries spy pictures, particularly of the German company's products.

David had been chatting to a representative of the company, and was regaled with complaints that Wheels24, and me, are wrong in taking pictures of its cars on public roads.

To which the witty newspaper columnist and TV programme presenter replied: "But that's his job..."



The irony here is that no Wheels24 staffer has ever taken pictures of Porsches in South Africa. All the photographs we have carried have been provided by our correspondents overseas, mainly in Germany.

Not that we would hesitate if the opportunity ever arose, but we've never managed to catch them, even though we know the Porsche testers hang out at the Lord Charles Hotel in Somerset West when they're in Cape Town, and garage their cars in a nearby warehouse.

But the fact is, by the time they get here we've usually already published shots from our trusty spies in other parts of the world.

It's a strange thing, this spy business.

I recently heard that a so-called journalist at GQ magazine had been very derogatory about Wheels24 photographer William McIntosh's efforts in shooting another "secret" German car, a Mercedes ML.

This guy - yes, he's German too - had been invited to an exclusive preview of the new vehicle by his mates, and was peeved that William spotted it in Cape Town's Waterfront and took away his personal "scoop".


What our GQ hero didn't know was that most of the pictures we used on Wheels24 actually came from a member of the public, a banker in fact. GQ owes William a big apology.

Our tussle with representatives of another German company, BMW, are well documented. These clowns had security guards, and believed they were in order in assaulting a staff member and trying to steal our camera while they were filming on a public open space outside our office!

Another film company, resident in Cape Town, recently complained to the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of SA (NAAMSA) that we were taking work away from them because we had taken pictures of cars they were filming - again just outside my window!

The complaint was passed on to a committee member of the SA Guild of Motoring Journalists, who reacted just as David Bullard had - "but that's their job".

And it's a job we are proud of, and which we believe we do pretty well.

There are lots of reasons why we carry spy pictures.


The first, of course, is to fulfill our readers' insatiable appetite for news.

The second, in some ways equally important, is to inform readers about what's coming up.

This performs a two-fold function.

Firstly, prospective buyers may well decide to wait for a new model rather than buy what's on offer at the moment. It could even lead them to switch allegiance from one manufacturer's current offering to a new one from a competitor.

Secondly, it prevents unscrupulous motor dealers and salesmen - often aided and abetted by motor companies - from selling off old stock to unsuspecting customers under the pretence that there's no new model in the offing, scant weeks before an upgrade.

Yes, it does happen. Lies, lies and damned lies are often the main weapons in a car salesman's armoury.

It's legal

And as far as legality is concerned, the law of the land allows us to photograph anything in a public place - with the exception of certain sensitive areas such as prisons - provided we don't commit trespass to do so.

The law does NOT allow anyone to interfere with our persons or our property to prevent us doing so, and we would urge anyone who has been attacked or threatened in this way to report it to the police.

Fact is, we have as much right to earn a living as the film companies and the road testers.

They have only themselves to blame if they are stupid enough to do their work where everyone can see them, and in the middle of the day, instead of getting up early and driving away from the main stream.

So if any one of you out there spots a car you haven't seen before, whip out your cellphone or digital camera and send me the pictures. It might just turn out to be another scoop!

Send them here

  • If this column may seem a bit anti-German, well it's not meant to be. It's just that some of the German companies give the impression they believe it's in order to come here and strong-arm their way around,whereas the French invite us to move closer for a better look, the Italians want to look at our pictures, and the British invite us for a pint!

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