Climate Camp: Code of Conduct

2009-08-26_K8K0260
A metal fence has been placed around the camp to 'defend' the site.

As Climate Camp set up on Blackheath in south London yesterday I got hold of a copy of the code of conduct that journalists will be asked to sign if they want to stay on the camp outside of media hours (10am-6pm) and it makes for fascinating reading.

Most of it reinforces the camp’s existing media policy such as asking for everyone’s permission when taking a photograph. The code says ‘When you want to take a picture or a video and it includes people, always, always ask first. If you can’t ask don’t take the picture.

The camp’s organisers claim that all decisions are made with consensus from everyone. But reading through the minutes of the national meetings before the camp, the code of conduct is only ever mentioned in passing. There is never a discussion about what it should be and what it should contain.

So what has resulted is the media team’s moral view on what the press should be allowed to do being imposed on everyone at the camp and on journalists. We do not allow the police to impose their moral view of what should be photographed on us, so why should journalists subscribe to the media team’s views?

Are they supposing that if the police were to raid the camp we wouldn’t be able to photograph it unless we asked everyone defending the camp their permission first? I spent all day photographing people setting up the camp, I didn’t ask a single one for their permission and no-one asked me not to take their picture.

In an interesting twist, this year’s camp is on common land, unlike previous years where they have squatted someone else’s land for a week. So the argument is no longer that they have no right to impose rules on land that doesn’t belong to them, but that they have no right to impose rules on land that belongs to everybody.

Their right to be on the land is equal to mine and any other member of the public. Just because they’ve put a fence up does not give them the right to restrict access or impose restrictions on access.

The final bizarre section is entitled ‘Understand our community’ and states:

  • Anyone who is responsible for violence, intimidation, harassment or unwanted sexual contact will by their behaviour exclude themselves from the camp.
  • We reject any form of language and behaviour that perpetuates oppression, however unintentionally: for example a racist or sexist joke, or interrupting someone on the basis of unspoken privilege.
  • Stealing and other breaches of trust, including informing on camp activities, will also exclude the person responsible from the camp. All allegations will be treated seriously but with an awareness that they can be divisive, especially if unsubstantiated.

Perhaps they copied and pasted this section from something they were going to hand out to campers because I certainly don’t think it can apply to journalists.

No interrupting? I’m not sure broadcast and radio journalists will be able to be follow that one for more than a minute interviewing someone. And the idea that journalists would steal, use violence or sexually harass someone on the camp are so far fetched I’m not going to discuss them.

I find the last point particularly insulting, I’ll assume they mean ‘informing’ in the sense of passing the police information that was given in confidence, rather than informing people by reporting – as is our job. Not giving unpublished material over to the state is an issue that journalists go to prison for.

In any case the campers needn’t worry as we’ve already to agreed to a code of conduct – the NUJ Code of Conduct. And that is the only code I will be agreeing to as I cover Climate Camp this week.

I agree. I was happily taking pictures of the set up yesterday, leaving cards with people so they could download later. Then that tw@t gets up at the “House Meeting” and says “no pictures without permission” and that’s it. I talked to some organisers and they said that that comment was his opinion and not the camps but they wouldn’t say what camp opinion was.

So. I take a picture of 400 people sitting down and I need permission from all of them? Nope. I don’t. By their own admission it was public land I don’t need releases from them. In any event I was so pissed off with their “Holier Than Thou” lefty hippy BS that I left. Feck ’em..

The Camp is not public space for the week it’s at Blackheath – it is a place people will live and work and socialise.

Apply the same rules journalists that you have for private dwellings & workplaces, ie don’t just snap without permission.

If you just whinge about the access you have, you’ll only drive it back to the situation in the past when you had much more limited and controlled access.

Blackheath is nobodies to make private. As I said in my piece the campers have no more right to be there than journalists have and just because they’ve put a fence up doesn’t give them the right to say who can come on and what they can do there.

People may be staying on the site, but they are also inviting everyone to come along and join them, that’s hardly private.

I don’t see your logic of not exposing restrictions on reporting, if journalists don’t make a stand for their rights, who will?

Will the organisers of Climate Camp suddenly realise that the restrictions are undemocratic and are same PR tactics that the organisations they oppose use? I doubt it.

You’ll find this becomes more of an issue as you are now deciding to take digital images of people and distribute them on a medium that is quite different from the one that your craft associations rules were written for.

The British concept of absolute lack of privacy in perpetuity and without bounds in public is already being questioned, and people will only become more uncomfortable about being under the constant eye of compulsory surveillance. You are a part of this possibly, innocently, unwittingly and for the best reasons.

Welcome to the 21st century.

The idea that photographers should not be able to take pictures in public, as a breach of an individuals privacy, is in turn, the crumbling of the keystone to civil liberites. It’s one thing if a celebritiy tries to hinder photography of themsevles or family, but completely another to apply this to the general public.

If you remove the right to public photography, you remove the one defense of democracy and freedom. A journalist is someone that reports events to the general public, not an employee of Rupert Murdoch. The photojournalist is the proof of the written word. Without journalists and especially without photojournalists, there is no one watching to report events as they happen. All you get is biased views of engaged parties. A journalist should always strive to obtain an independent obsevation, without this, no will know what really happened.

Currently, journalists appear to be defending the protestors actions and condeming the police actions. This is the reason why the Police are taking a very distant stance. Take away the journalists and the Police will have no one to watch their actions and report.

In response to the Climate Camps ‘code of conduct’, I was there too, taking pictures, and was amused by the opening meeting beginning with the statement that all this is possible due to the laws of ‘Common Land’, then ending with ‘ask permission to take pictures’! There appears to be a general threat that you will be made to leave the camp if you break the code. So common land has been demarcated with new laws in place. Not just a common law but a dictatorship, one that is back by oppreshion and threat of expulsion. Amazing how in just a few hours, common land became home to an opprehive dictatorship.

The laws of common land are such that if the land is not left in the hands of the common people, then it must be returned to the crown or state, in which case, that fenced off dictatorship in Blackheath is no longer common land, as such the campers are trespassing and can be legally removed. Ooops!

I was asked on two occassions not to take pictures. It made me think about protestors, I have been one and will be again. When a protestor, protests in public, are they not making an assesrtion to their support of a cause or action, in public. They are visually signing their name to that action or cause. If they do not want to be counted, amongst that number, they surely should not be there? If it’s the case that these people are concerned with later identification and association with events that are or may be illegal, then surely they should not take part in those actions, or not be party to the public side of the camp.

If you don’t want to be associated with protest action, don’t protest, if you do support a cause and want to protest publicly, expect to be recorded as doing so.

If all the press left the Climate Camp, the camp would be gone by Saturday, and no one would hear why or how…

Presumably these “guidelines” dont apply to the undercover tabloid journalist recording everything that comes from the mouth of some ketamine addled fuckwit being secretly filmed via a hidden camera?

By alienating the few media who are covering this event in an open and sensitive way the campers are really not doing themselves any favours at all. We really dont need lessons in common sense from people who think that spending a week in a tent is a revolutionary act.

If they prefer I suppose we could all just bugger off en masse and leave them at the mercy of the MET?

“By alienating the few media who are covering this event in an open and sensitive way the campers are really not doing themselves any favours at all.”

Do you think the camp should have 2 sets of guidelines – one for ‘sympathetic and open’ journos and one for hostile journos? Or that we should be happy to have Sun journos photographing us on the compost loos, because its a free for all? Please feel free to expand on how you think it could work better.

“If they prefer I suppose we could all just bugger off en masse and leave them at the mercy of the MET?”

Seriously Guy – are you suggesting that your presence has protected us from the Met in the past? IIRC the Met were targetting you lot at Kingsnorth as well.

most of the problem comes when you look at comments, and what they imply, from the likes of Guy. Most of the reporting of the camp will be biased, misinformed, sloppy and outright wrong. Journalists rarely perform in the role of ‘informing the public’ (I mean, red tops ‘informing the public’? Give me a break). The real question is, given journalism’s crap track record with factually covering events and not just bashing out some half-arsed copy by deadline, why do you lot think your special?

I think we should leave them die of boredom in their pseudo revolutionary tents.
I will not take pictures accompanied by a minder no matter if is at Shell or at a protest. Their guidelines resembles very much the ones from Shell!!!
I do not think any of them has worked a single day in their own life either are higher class bored year gappers or generations of people that has never worked one day but milked the system that pretend to fight.
We should let them play on their own the sms messaging games and the likes of yesterday that may be interesting and fun for 14 years old on summer holidays!
Media should not play their game, without talking about them their movement will be dead and forgotten in less than we can expect.
Good riddance of the lot!

@nick

“Journalists rarely perform in the role of ‘informing the public’”

Really? – You sure about that?

“Caught on film and stored on database: how police keep tabs on activists”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/mar/06/police-surveillance-database-activists-intelligence

“‘UK plc can afford more than 20 quid,’ the officer said”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/apr/25/police-informers-tape-recordings-gifford

“Fit Watch campaigners describe how they were arrested and bundled to the ground”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jun/21/fit-watch-police-surveillance-val-swain-emily-apple-arrests

Hi Marc,

so, are you saying the Guardian’s coverage is average , all journalists are like the examples you cite (i.e. all from the Guardian) or just that the Guardian (and one journalist in particular) has done a pretty good job of keeping tabs on the police?

I posted links to the investigations that Paul Lewis and I have worked on together to show you that journalists can and do inform the public.

As John Vidal – the Guardian’s environment editor – wrote after the Heathrow Climate Camp in 2007:

I refused to go on the absurd camp tour. On a personal level, every journalist and photographer I talked to felt insulted. Why is a journalist – good or bad – not classed as a citizen? Why could not journalists inform themselves by going to the lectures and debates? Why should they not enjoy the same rights as anyone else? Why was my partner allowed into the camp but not me? Why could I only talk to people I had known for years only in the company of a minder?

The understand our community section comes from the “Safer Spaces Agreement” which is a shared code of conduct for everyone on site, it isn’t a snipe at journalists.

Why did the media team feel the need to make journalists sign a bit of paper promising not to do things that any professional wouldn’t do anyway. Is everybody else who goes on to the camp signing these rules as well?

When journalists go to interview politicians and big business leaders we don’t sign bits of paper promising to be nice and not ask any difficult questions.

It’s no wonder people think the campers are patronising.

I am a strong supporter of the camp, but I am uncomfortable with the Media policy in this respect. It suspect it stems from a hard-won distrust of the media.. having said that I don’t think it is necessary or helpful.

Good piece Jono, well argued. Nothing to add, except the idea that they can occupy common land and then expect to set such strict rules for the media is unfortunate given the fact that it risks alienating the very journalists that are likely to be independent, honest and non-hostile.

Spot on Jools. And Heather Brooke – a true champion of freedom of speech.

Unfortunately for those who want to curb opinions they don’t like, living in a free and open democracy means you also have to listen to views opposed to your own.

People are equally free to praise and criticise your actions.
Trying to dictate what they can and can’t do like this and “control the message”, it’ll be more of the latter.

That guide could easily have been written by a corporate communications manager. It massively damages your cause.

I was down there yesterday and was already angry at the controls we were facing before I even got there. While I would hate young people to lose the feeling that they can change the way the world works, I thoroughly resent being told what I can and can’t do on either illegally occupied or common land. I left the site with the urge to go home and leave my car engine running overnight.. 😉

I ‘swooped’ on the camp yesterday, taking pictures without problems – and as always using my discretion as to whether to ask permission or not. Most of the time I didn’t as it was neither necessary nor sensible to do so.

Another photographer I was with on the tube journey with the campers did get hassled for taking pictures by a guy with a clear case of paranoia. I find it hard to understand why the Climate Camp runs with these guys. I’m not going to repeat the arguments well-stated above, but the law is clear and I think the moral position is equally clear. The position in the CC Media is insupportable.

I won’t go back to the camp. In 2007 George Monbiot argued that the Heathrow Climate Camp was a “protest for democracy”. It’s an odd kind of democracy that feels a need to manage journalists like this.

Hello – I just posted this on Leon Neal’s blog and thought it might be worth posting here as well:

As someone involved in the camp who wants it to get media coverage I’m concerned to read this post, and really pleased that you’ve written it. I don’t dismiss it as an anti-protest rant at all.

I think there’s a short term and a long term aspect to the problem, from the camp’s perspective. Long term is that over the last 4 years the media team has wanted to place no restrictions on media access or behaviour, as it knows that hostile journalists will just come on undercover anyway, and it’s keen to see the Camp attract media coverage. However other campers don’t trust the media and want the camp to be about training and education for those who are there and not about attracting publicity. So every year the media access policy is an attempt to find common ground between those perspectives.

The short term factor is that the code of conduct was a response to media access being increased from 2 hours to 8 hours this year (10am-6pm for tv crews and photographers, 24hrs for print, which is something at least!), and it appears to have been written quite hurriedly and mostly with a view to how it appears to campers, not to the media. If I’d had time among all the other preparations I’ve been doing I’d have tried to improve it, particularly some of the bossy-sounding language, but also the need to ask permission which in most cases I agree is unnecessary and completely unworkable.

But I can definitely see the argument that on either squatted land or in particular on common land the Camp has no right to impose a ‘media access’ policy on journalists at all. And I think part of the Camp maturing politically would be to accept that what it does is going to be subjected to greater media and public scrutiny.

The main counter-argument to completely open media access is that since the Camp has effectively become our home and place of work for the week, it’s legitimate to try and maintain some privacy. For example, Shell and BP and Ed Milliband don’t let journalists into their offices or homes whenever they want, not even from 10am to 6pm :-)

More widely, I’d want to analyse the power dynamics of that comparison. Corporations and the government can afford to conduct their affairs behind closed doors because they are rich and powerful, they have offices or can hire conference centres to hold events, and they then acquire the right to manage what journalists are allowed to see. We’re not rich and powerful, and as a result we are forced to set up camp by squatting land. Is it right to then use our powerlessness against us to demand greater access to our activities than you would expect from someone more powerful?

Overall, I’m undecided about what the approach should be, but I’ll try to go to a media team meeting and see where the discussions are at. I don’t want the Camp to be imposing authoritarian rules on journalists, but I guess the question is whether a media access policy is authoritarian or reasonable, and if the latter, which bits of the existing one are reasonable and which bits not.

At the same time, decisions on behalf of the camp are made by everyone by consensus, and reopening the question may result in a more restrictive policy being agreed! I guess if you’re pissed off enough not to come back then we’ll just have to take the hit. But please know that we don’t dismiss your concerns – we’re just trying to balance them with those of others in a collective decision-making process. Which is how the Commons should be managed!

I was there yesterday (as a photographer) and pointed out the irony and illegality of their restrictions and was met with apologetic shrugs from some and blank-eyed arrogance from others. I told my “buddy” that I wasn’t going on the tour thanks and that if you must speak to people I’m photographing, do it after I’ve finished. Incredibly, she wanted to ask the owners of the tents whether I could photograph them – the tents not the people! Of course I pointed out that she was being patently ridiculous and that I already disagreed with being accompanied and restricted on common land. I don’t need to reiterate the excellent points made by Jonathan, Jools and others, but being asked to wait for permission to photograph plastic inanimate objects in public is quite incredible. A woman in the media tent (?) was perturbed that I was alone wiring pictures (sure enough my Buddy had got bored of following me around). Another climate camper I spoke to said he had spoken to someone from The Times, but qualified that by saying that of course he didn’t trust him. I asked why and he said “Murdoch of course”. Brilliant. I pointed out that The Times is pretty far from being an unethical fascist rag and that an individual working for a newspaper doesn’t necessary have the same world view of the media mogul that owns it but he seemed a bit confused. These people see the world painted in very broad strokes and I’ve no doubt that has informed their bizarre media policy.

Jon, I think you have completely missed the point.

The climate campers are not arguing that they have a legal right not to be photographed. So whether the land is commons has no relevance.

The camp is in some sense a public protest, and so to some extent it is reasonable to take photographs of it. But in some sense it is a place where people are living, eating, using compost toilets and doing all the other things that humans do together. I think that it is perfectly reasonable and understandable that the campers ask that some areas not be the subject of photojournalism.

Any reasonable person would respect other people’s rights to privacy in these cases.

The camp has various ‘no media zones’. These are tents where people can relax and socialise away from the media lens. Refusing to comply with the campers’ wish not to be photographed isn’t a breach of their rights, but is unreasonable and shows a lack of basic common sense.

“Any reasonable person would respect other people’s rights to privacy in these cases.”

Jonathan can correct me if I’m wrong, but I doubt he is demanding the right to photograph a climate camper sitting on the throne.

In any case, the camp media policy is about a lot more than respecting the privacy of those socialising or voiding their bowels. On Thursday I was ushered away from the communications tent, into which I had been escorted by a camp welcome team member who was trying to find a press spokesman who could answer my questions. I presume that my presence was not welcome as I might possibly overhear some sensitive information being transmitted over the airwaves.

Bollocks to that. Blackheath is ancient common land, and Climate Camp has squatted this community resource without warning, let alone consultation. As a journalist I will under no circumstances agree to Climate Camp’s media “code of conduct”. And as a resident of Blackheath Village I object to the camp taking over a section of the heath without prior consent from the community.

Francis, Jon was not asking to photograph people “sitting on the throne”, but was refusing to respect privacy in the ‘media free zones’ used for socialising. I only mentioned compost toilets to clearly illustrate the absurdity of demanding the right to photograph anywhere or anything on the basis of press freedom or because the land is commons.

I don’t know why you were asked to leave the media tent. However I wouldn’t presume that it is because you might overhear radio conversations. If you had your own CB radio, you could listen to these, so it wouldn’t gain much to move you away from people with radios.

Blackheath was chosen for the site of climate camp without consultation with locals, it is true. Ideally, there would have been some prior conversation. But I expect you can understand this was impractical given that the location of the camp must remain secret before the event. Given the oppression from police in previous years, concealing the location was a practical necessity.

In spite of this, the vast majority of locals spoken to by campers have been very supportive. One commented that the land is not used enough, and should be used for more events like it. A local group who play football on Blackheath each weekend have challenged the campers to a friendly game. Many others have actually joined in and pitched their tents in the camp. Out of dozens of locals I have spoken to, you are the only one who has had an objection. I suspect this may be motivated by your treatment as a journalist, rather than as a local resident.

My original point was that it is perfectly reasonable for campers to ask photojournalists to respect ‘media free zones’ used for relaxation and socialising away from public scrutiny. I think that point stands.

Impractical? To be honest, Jo, I couldn’t give a monkey’s fart. You cannot justify the decision on grounds of expediency. It was an amoral decision, and unbecoming of a group that pretends to follow a libertarian green philosophy.

I’ve also spoken with locals who support, or at least do not object to the presence of Climate Camp on Blackheath. But those same sympathetic souls, some of whom attended Saturday’s public meeting in Greenwich, have serious doubts about your strategy. My notebook is littered with such transcribed comments as “back-slapping”, “feel-good”, “somewhat disengaged from reality” and “unrepresentative”.

Just because these sympathetic locals took part in the finger-jiggling straw poll conducted at the Greenwich meeting (in which, by the way, they were outnumbered by camp participants), does not mean that their support is uncritical. That is despite the attempts of Climate Camp’s PR spinners to portray everything as being hunky dory.

Why have your public outreach efforts all but ignored Lewisham borough? After all, the section of Blackheath you have occupied is in Lewisham, not Greenwich. Residents of the latter were always going to be more supportive of Climate Camp, but surely you should be reaching out to the working class people of Lewisham too.

In the very public space that is Blackheath, there can be no grounds for the appropriation of the commons, and establishment of “media free zones”. You are not entitled to impose such rules, so your point doesn’t stand. Climate Camp’s rules are null and void.

Local people can be broadly supportive of the camp, but critical of its campaigning strategy. The same can be true of campers. You raise a good point about outreach to Lewisham, if that hasn’t been happening.

You seem to be addressing me as if I were a representative of the camp. I want to make clear that I am not. My understanding, though, is that the lack of consultation was due not due to “expediency” but out of necessity – the camp could not happen if its location was known to the police beforehand.

I made clear above that the campers request for some ‘media free zones’ was not standing on the basis of legal rights, but common sense and a reasonableness to respect their desire for some privacy. Whether the campers are “entitled” to “impose” such rules is beside the point. It is about basic human courtesy.

No, it’s not beside the point. Climate Camp is not a private residence in which the occupants can expect privacy. It is a very public political happening, conducted in a space used by a community of tens of thousands of Londoners and others.

As for camp representatives, we are constantly told that there are none. But this is clearly bullshit, and it raises serious questions about accountability. You write in the style of a Climate Camp PR, hence my assumption that you are one.