Judge ruling on unbroadcast Derry footage 'dangerous'
15 December 2011
The Crown Court in Derry has ordered the BBC, UTV and ITN to hand over all unbroadcast television footage relating to disturbances during the Apprentice Boys parade in Derry, last August. The NUJ has said that the ruling is dangerous and is calling on media organisations to appeal.
Séamus Dooley, the union's Irish Secretary, said that the NUJ would be urging the media organisations cited to appeal against the order issued by Judge Piers Grant. He expressed "grave disquiet" at comments made by the judge in relation to the possible threat to journalists arising from such orders.
Judge Grant was quoted as saying that he was not satisfied that the handing over of unbroadcast material to the police would cause a risk to the life or limb of news photographers, nor did he believe they would be viewed as evidence-gatherers on the part of the police. He said there was "no evidence this had happened in the past".
Séamus Dooley said Judge Grant appeared not to fully appreciate the distinct role of media workers covering public events. Neither did he appreciate the importance of the media being recognised as independent observers.
"Media organisations in Northern Ireland have received death threats and journalists have sustained serious injuries while covering events."
Judge Grant ordered the media organisations to hand over material that had not been broadcast. In doing so, he said journalists were properly present to record TV footage of what occurred. There had been an anxiety on the part of the participants in the disturbances to avoid detection by wearing scarves or balaclavas in an effort to conceal their identities.
In granting the order, Judge Grant said he was satisfied there may be relevant evidence in the unbroadcast material and it might be possible to identify people who later became involved in the disturbances by their clothing.
Séamus Dooley said:
"The role of media organisation is to cover and report events. It is not the function of the media organisation to supply footage to the police. There was a strong police presence in Derry during the parade and the PSNI clearly have material gathered by the police and security forces which could be relied upon.
"It is difficult to imagine what other material could be in the possession of these media organisations. The PSNI also have full access to the broadcast material. In the circumstances, the insistence on securing a court order for the handover of other material is both unnecessary and disturbing.
"Judge Grant's comments have alarmed many journalists, who now feel that they will be put at risk when covering demonstrations. The NUJ is calling on media organisations to appeal this order and to take a strong, united stage against yet another blow to media freedom."
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:
"This is a dangerous ruling. Journalists should be free to do their job and democratic duty in covering such events. They already put themselves at risk when covering these events. This ruling not only undermines their independence by making them instruments of the state, but makes them potentially targets of the demonstrators."