VIDEO: The NUJ has released a short film highlighting some of the problems faced by journalists covering public demonstrations.
The video was released the day after the TUC in Brighton condemned the erosion of civil liberties and media freedoms in Britain. TUC unions unanimously backed a motion, proposed by the National Union of Journalists, which called for a rethink of government policies that put journalists at risk of imprisonment just for doing their job.
Speaking after the TUC vote, NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear said: “Journalism is facing grave threats in an age of intolerance. Whilst on the streets dissent is being criminalized, independent journalism is being increasingly caught in the civil liberties clampdown.”
The nine-minute video, called Press Freedom: Collateral Damage, includes examples of the police obstructing journalists in their work.
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Release of the film follows numerous complaints from media workers who have experiences of the police going beyond their powers in attempting to restrict the ability of journalists to do their work. The NUJ’s motion to the TUC was part of a wider campaign for a greater recognition of press freedom by the UK government.
The motion also highlights cases of journalists, such as Robin Ackroyd and Shiv Malik, who have faced the threat of jail because of legal demands to reveal confidential source information.
In his speech to Congress, Jeremy Dear drew attention to the case of Sally Murrer, who is facing criminal prosecution for receiving information from a police source, and highlighted the problems faced by journalists attempting to cover the recent Climate Camp in Kent.
Jeremy said: “The terrorising of journalists isn’t just done by shadowy men in balaclavas, but also by governments and organisations who use the apparatus of the law or state authorities to suppress and distort the information they do not want the public to know and to terrorise the journalists involved through injunctions, threats to imprisonment and financial ruin.
“The use of the Terrorism Act and SOCPA increasingly criminalize not just those who protest but those deemed to be giving the oxygen of publicity to such dissent. Journalists’ material and their sources are increasingly targeted by those who wish to pull a cloak of secrecy over their actions.”
The speech concluded: “This isn’t over-zealous policing this is a co-ordinated and systematic abuse of media freedom – and we must expose it, challenge it and act against those who undermine the rights of photographers, journalists and media workers.
“And we must do so because if whistleblowers and sources fear speaking out, if photographers and journalists cannot probe the dark corners of business, politics or human rights, the ability of the media – already under threat from concentration of ownership and cost-cutting – to hold power to account, to expose wrongdoing, to provide the information on which citizens can make informed decisions about their lives will be seriously compromised.
“The Terrorism Act and SOCPA are not sophisticated security policies – they are the blunt instruments of an intolerant government.
“As if in some Orwellian nightmare the Ministry of Freedom tells us that the price we must pay for peace and liberty at home is not just a war in Iraq – not just the billions spent on war – but, in the wake of the London bombings, is the fingerprinting of council workers and the covert surveillance of M&S workers. It is ID cards and 42-day detention. It is curbs on the right to protest, the civil contingencies act and it is the extension of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, a snoopers’ charter giving access to personal texts, emails and internet use.
“The price is too high. Less liberty does not imply greater security. It never has.
“Our movement has been at the forefront of the great struggles for human and civil rights over the past century. In this age of intolerance new struggles must be waged and we must lead that fight.”
9 September 2008