Another View: Jason Parkinson

I first met Jason Parkinson when he was illegally detained by police while covering a demonstration at the Harmondsworth and Colnbrook detention centres in west London in April 2006. Police were refusing to accept that he was a journalist and denied that his press card, issued by the UK Press Card Authority was a real press card. On the back of the card it says “The Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland recognise the holder of this card as a bona-fide newsgatherer”, but while this may be so, it often doesn’t seem to be good enough for the officers on the street.

Jason shows his press card to no avail at Harmonsdworth

Jason called out to the three of us standing on an earth bank a few yards away taking pictures, asking us to show our press cards and confirm his was genuine. This left me in a little of a quandary, as when getting things ready for the day I’d noticed that mine had expired at the end of the previous month, which had meant I’d had to hold it with a strategically placed thumb when I waved it at police earlier. Fortunately another colleague jumped forward with a valid card and confirmed that Jason’s was genuine, although even then he was not immediately allowed to exit the police bubble.

It’s typical of Jason that he was in there with the demonstrators covering events, as the strapline from his blog has it, “from an uncompromising angle.” Since then I’ve met him covering many events, and also suffered similar treatment from police who’ve refused to accept my press card as genuine – some officers appear to react rather negatively to the fact that it says ‘NUJ’ prominently on it.

Of course we shouldn’t need a press card. Citizens in a democratic countries enjoy various freedoms, including the right to photograph in public places, freedom of assembly and so on. But no longer so in England in areas designated under SOCPA or indeed most places where a political demonstration is taking place, where our police often assume arbitrary powers and misuse provisions intended by Parliament to prevent terrorism.

But having a press card doesn’t solve problems, nor does the existence of agreed guidelines. In his blog post on the police pay demonstration, Jason writes ‘This officer, CO35, then decided to ignore Metropolitan Police guidelines and halted photojournalists from doing their job. Not just once, but twice. When asked if he knew he was restricting freedom of press CO35 answered by saying, “go away”.’ The only thing that surprises me is the mild language of his response – but of course he knew that Jason was recording every word on video, and that the footage would almost certainly be published.

Its always interesting to me to see how other photographers have covered events that I’ve attended, and on Jason’s blog there are several recent examples of events that you will also find on ‘My London Diary’, including my view of the Anonymous protest against Scientology, Police Pay and Freedom of Protest events. But Jason also gets to places and stories that are harder to reach, and February’s entries include a lengthy report on the ‘Beyond Slavery‘ conference and an interesting feature on Football for Change Iraq.

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