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'Stop police officers hitting journalists' conference hears

19 May 2009

The work of photographers is under threat from all sides a union conference in London has heard. The NUJ-organised conference yesterday also hear how the the union is defending photographers.

Nearly 200 photographers at the conference engaged in a heated discussion with the Metropolitan police commander in charge of public order policing in London. Commander Bob Broadhurst was repeatedly challenged over the treatment of journalists at recent public order events.

Photographers told the Commander that officers at recent protests had refused to accept the NUJ press card, even though it is formally recognised by all police authorities.

Photographer Michael Preston said that his arm had been broken by an officer with a truncheon to whom he was holding out his card to show it.

"Someone should stop police officers hitting journalists."

Commander Broadhurst said that he accepted the right of journalists to work unhindered, but insisted that officers also had a right to control everybody present at public order events.

"Some of our officers have huge problems dealing with groups of people when they are faced with a phalanx of photographers."

He tried to question the validity of the press card, asking what vetting is done. Union officials explained that members had to show they were newsgathering journalists.

The conference came six weeks after the G20 protests in London that brought more than 90 complaints about police attacking journalists and demonstrators, but members said the difficulties went back much further.

A major problem identified was the lack of training of police in how to deal fairly with the media, despite the guidelines agreed between the NUJ and the Met five years ago. Officers were simply not aware of them, said photographer Geoff Moore of the British Press Photographers' Association. He asked Commander Broadhurst for a guarantee that police training would routinely include media relations.

Roy Mincoff, NUJ Legal Officer, highlighted concerns around the surveillance of journalists, particularly those covering demonstrations. He requested assurances that the police do not retain records of photographers and journalists whom the police have been either deliberately or inadvertently photographing over the last few of years.

Whilst unable to give assurances at the meeting, Commander Broadhurst promised to respond to the union.

Lawyer Emma Hulme of Thompsons, the union's retained solicitors, told the conference that new "anti-terrorist" laws were undermining the few rights that journalists had to protect their work from the state. The safeguards in the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act – under which police need a court order to get their hands on journalists' material – were being superseded by the powers of stop and search granted to police by successive counter-terrorism acts.

Jeremy Dear, NUJ General Secretary, committed the union to fight for photographers' rights.

"We will never rest as long as members are stopped from working free from threat and harassment. We've met government ministers and police chiefs. We've submitted complaints to the IPCC. We laid siege to New Scotland Yard in the largest media event they'd seen for years."

He said dozens of photographers had lost their jobs over the last year, casualties of a media model that puts profits before quality.

"But even that underestimates the scale of the impact of the job losses on photographers. Too many media companies have replaced professional images with the product of their drive for cheap, copyright-free user-generated content."

Tags: , metropolitan police, photographers, police, conference, journalists injured, protests, surveillance, ipcc, press freedom, bppa, training, cuts, user-generated content, copyright, press cards