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Media watchdog role would be undermined by ban on photographs in Ireland

18 September 2018

The NUJ's Irish secretary has expressed grave concern at the support for a ban on photographing Gardai expressed by justice minister Charlie Flanagan in an interview with Sean O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio One.

Flanagan said he was "favourably disposed" to introducing legislation to make it an offence to photograph Gardaí while they are undertaking their duties.

Séamus Dooley, NUJ Irish secretary, said:

"The National Union of Journalists would be strongly opposed to the proposed restrictions. I was surprised and disappointed by the support for such a proposal by the minister for justice and equality Charles Flanagan. 
"The NUJ condemns online abuse of any individual or group of workers. I would support the call by John Jacob, general secretary, AGSI, for greater vigilance by multinational companies in monitoring and tackling online abuse. Gardai and their families are entitled to protection from such abuse but an outright ban on photographing Gardai at work, as favoured by some representative bodies, would be an infringement on the fundamental rights exercised by the media, as enshrined by the constitution and specifically protected under article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
"The European Court of Human Rights has been accorded the broadest scope of protection in the court’s case law. In the landmark Goodwin case taken by the NUJ the court recognised what it called 'the watchdog role of the media' and stated very clearly that restrictions on media freedom can only be justified by 'an overriding requirement in the public interest.' (Goodwin v. the United Kingdom, judgment of 27 March 1996, § 39).
"It is vital that all organs of the state operate in an open and transparent fashion. Those who exercise authority must have a reasonable expectation of public scrutiny and this applies, in particular, to the Gardai and defence forces. It is inevitable that those who exercise great power over citizens should be subjected to the greatest scrutiny and should be required to meet the highest ethical standards. 
"I would also agree with Jacob’s view that the right to protest is exercised in a manner which recognises the right of Gardai to do their job in accordance with the law.
"Photographers and videographers provide independent evidence at demonstrations. The absence of photographers would be no guarantee of inappropriate behaviour and would not prevent attacks on the Gardai or by individual members of the force. If there is evidence of unacceptable behaviour it is the behaviour which needs to be addressed. Undermining the rights of the media is not the solution."

Tags: , garda siochána, police, ireland, photographers, photography, right to report, press freedom