NUJ General Secretary, Jeremy Dear staged a one-man protest outside the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police on Friday (28/03), to highlight the failure of law enforcement officers to protect media freedoms.
The event, attended by dozens of press photographers, was in response to numerous complaints about how the police deal with the media, particularly at public events and demonstrations.
Photographer members of the union are frustrated because they are regularly obstructed from doing their jobs by police officers who don’t understand the law around media freedom. Jeremy hoped that his one-man demo would help senior police officers spot the difference between a protester and photographers covering the protest.
Last year a set of guidelines on dealing with the media was agreed between the NUJ and the Association of Chief Police Officers, an extension of guidelines already agreed with the Metropolitan Police. However, cases have continued to surface of police officers taking action that is not within their legal powers. Most cases involve officers obstructing photographers from taking photos and the confiscation or deletion of pictures once they have been taken.
There are also examples of journalists being arrested, or threatened with arrest, because they have refused to stop taking photos and in other cases photographers have had their equipment seized. Many NUJ members have reported being physically and mentally intimidated by the police and some cases have included actual physical violence.
Photographers regularly criticise the police for their handling of the media at major events, particularly public demonstrations where officers often fail to draw a sufficient distinction between protestors and members of the press who are reporting on the event.
To mark the protest, Jeremy Dear has sent a letter to New Scotland Yard highlighting the union’s concerns. A letter from the NUJ Parliamentary Group to the Home Secretary has also been dispatched to the Home Office to raise the issue at the highest levels.
Speaking in advance of the protest, Jeremy Dear said: “It’s a shame that we have to hold a stunt like this to help the police spot the difference between a protestor and a press photographer. It really isn’t that difficult.
“What’s really frustrating is that guidelines are already in place which should deal with the problems we experience. We’re not even campaigning for a change to the rules. All we want is for the policy that currently exists to be properly enforced.
“Although the one-man protest is intended to be a little light-hearted, this is a really serious issue. Police officers are preventing photographers from reporting on important events with action that is at times bordering on harassment. In an open and democratic society it’s vital that photographers and members of the media are free to report on what is going on in the world. Police officers need to understand their responsibilities when it comes to respecting media freedom.”
28 March 2008