Press Freedom Under Attack

I’ve written a number of times about the increasing harassment that I and other photographers who document protest have been getting from the police over recent years. It’s  got so bad that NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear held a one-man protest outside New Scotland Yard this March, photographed by around 20 of us.

Jeremy Dear at New Scotland Yard

At least on that occasion the police didn’t bother us, although they did refuse to accept a letter from Jeremy Dear at New Scotland Yard, refusing him access to deliver it – he was told to put a stamp on it and post it.

This is a police station - you can't come in!
This is a police station – you can’t come in!

Other recent posts have looked at the repeated searching of photographers covering the Climate Camp (Police States – Hoo and Beijing) and the Smash Edo demonstration in Brighton.  A more general piece looked at the deliberate use of ‘Photography as Intimidation‘  by the police both against the press but also against demonstrators and also – praised by Home Secretary Jackie Smith – against those who police have identified as “persistent offenders” on some problem estates.

Those of us who believe in law in order and order in law feel that persistent offenders should be brought before the courts with proper evidence rather than suffer summary victimisation by  police officers.

At the Trade Union Congress in Brighton, Jeremy Dear moved a motion which called for a rethink of government policies that put journalists at risk of imprisonment just for doing their job which was adopted unanimously. His speech was brief but cited various examples of harassment of journalists, and in it he mentioned a video giving more details. You can read some of his speech and see that video on the NUJ site.

More pictures of me – as at every demo –  this time from a distance

The video, Press Freedom: Collateral Damage, is filmed , written and directed by Jason Parkinson, who I first met when he was held inside a police cordon at  the Colnbrook Detention Centre with police refusing to accept his NUJ card as genuine (it happened to me too at the tank auction at Excel last year- see Bad Press?) The producer of the film was Marc Vallée, who I wrote about when he accepted an out of court settlement earlier this year for a police assault that put him in hospital at the ‘Smash Parliament‘ demo in Parliament Square in 2006. Others involved in making the 9 minute video were Jeremy Dear as Executive Producer, Roy Mincoff for Legal and additional footage by Rikki Blue.

Police Medics treat Marc Vallee

I was taking pictures at most of the events covered by the film (and you will find them on My London Diary as well as often on Indymedia and in picture libraries), and there are fleeting glimpses of me at several points in the film but fortunately no more.

All of us suffer the kind of harassment you see and hear about, although it’s fair to add that there are other officers who apologise to us for the way we are treated by others and  for the orders they have to carry out. And at times some are helpful. One once told me he had been given an official warning for being too friendly to me. So perhaps I shouldn’t mention it.

Although relations between individuals can sometimes be good, we do seem to be increasingly faced with an official policy of restriction and harassment, of trying to prevent us from reporting what is happening.  Jeremy was absolutely right when he called it “a co-ordinated and systematic abuse of media freedom“, and equally right to set it in a wider context of the use by an intolerant government of “blunt instruments” of the Terrorism Act, SOCPA and other restrictions on the personal liberty of all citizens. As he said towards the close of his speech,  “The price is too high. Less liberty does not imply greater security. It never has.

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