Dale Farm production order hearing at Royal Courts of Justice
20 April 2012
A hearing on the judicial review against the decision by Chelmsford Crown Court to grant the Dale Farm footage production order has taken place at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. The case has been taken by Jason Parkinson, supported by the NUJ, and other media organisations.
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:
"The media played a critical public interest role in reporting on Dale Farm and the case has significant implications for the whole of our industry.
"Journalists are put in danger if footage gathered whilst reporting events is seized and used by the police. The NUJ's code of conduct compels the union – and our members - to defend a vital principle, the protection of journalistic sources and material.
"This case is a defence of press freedom – journalists are not evidence gatherers for the police."
Gavin Millar QC, appearing for Jason Parkinson, the BBC, ITN, BskyB and Hardcash Productions, argued the orders were an excessive, unlawful and disproportionate intrusion into the media's freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. He told the court the police were increasingly trying to seize footage of public disorder as a "convenient way to access evidence that may be used in court".
"But it has given rise to great concern on the other side of the courtroom, on the part of the media organisations, that there is a risk they will come to be regarded as doing the police's job for them."
When asked about whether this meant that they would be seen as "coppers' narks", he replied:
"Yes – it is a very hot issue on both sides. That is why the issues are something of a test case."
Jason Parkinson said:
"Since November 2010, the storming of the Conservative headquarters at Millbank, we have seen a dramatic increase in the use of production orders. Every public order incident since then, one news outlet or another has had the proverbial knock at the door.
"Coincidentally, the increase in production orders happened at the same time police and press relations seemed to improve on the ground. Gaining passage through police cordons was no longer a problem. Press cards were being respected.
"Overt surveillance by Forward Intelligence Teams seemed to stop. It was almost as if they wanted us there.
"On Tuesday 1 November 2011, I received an email from Essex police stating I was being served an order to obtain all my footage from the first two days of the Dale Farm eviction. That came 38 minutes after a separate email from Essex police press office asking to use my footage for 'training purposes'. They even offered me a visit to their in-house television unit.
"The union's own code of conduct lists the protection of sources and all journalistic material as a fundamental part of journalist ethics and in turn a fundamental part of our democracy. The ability to report free from state interference and indeed report on the state and hold them to account is the corner stone of what makes our democracy.
"When this was raised at Chelmsford Crown Court during the application hearing, prosecuting counsel said I held a "very extreme view" for defending that code of conduct. Butt it's not just the NUJ or myself, claiming to be holding these extreme views. Across the board – Sky News, the BBC and ITN – all have said enough is enough with these fishing exercises.
"The full extent of the increase in production orders is not known because all current investigations into the issue are met with the same response. Labour MP John McDonnell has repeatedly tabled parliamentary questions to the Secretary of State and, as with a recent Freedom of Information request to ACPO, the response is always the same – the information is not recorded or collected centrally.
"That is why I have opposed this production order and stood to uphold the NUJ Code of Conduct and protect all journalist sources and all material."
Judgement in the case was reserved.