Climate Camp: No Out of Hours Access

Later this week hundreds of activists will be swooping on an undisclosed location (most probably in East London) and setting up Climate Camp for another year.

And like previous years there are restrictions on reporting.

In the past the media rules included black-listing journalists who had given the camp ‘hostile coverage‘ and giving ‘sympathetic’ press and radio journalists extended access but only after they had told the camp organisers what they intended to publish.

Thankfully those rules were dropped after complaints from the NUJ and all journalists were escorted around the camp for an hour a day. They also didn’t go through with idea of carrying a flag around so that journalists and photographers were identifiable.

This year the restrictions are less stringent, but are still a futile effort to control the story. Print and radio journalists will once again be allowed to cosy up with campers, as long as they sign up to the camp’s code of conduct. I did ask for a copy of the code of conduct but the camps media team did not respond before publication.

Photographers and videographers on the other hand will only be allowed on the camp from 10-6 which is an improvement over the 1 hour that was allowed at the 2007 camp at Heathrow and the 2 hours at last years camp in Kent.

We will also be accompanied by minders who will make sure “that consent is obtained from people being filmed and photographed” – It’s not like we’re professionals and photograph and interview people every day for a living or anything.

In previous years photographers have been herded around the camp to a series of photo-ops with lots of fluffy activists dressed as polar bears and penguins, which is great PR for the camp but not what most people would consider good reporting or journalism.

The camps organisers insist that the restrictions are to prevent the camp turning into a ‘media goldfish bowl’ but by placing restrictions on access they create exactly that.

The camp will be most likely once again in a field or park that they have squatted without the landowners permission for the week and will be inviting the local community and members of the public to come along to workshops.

So if anyone can turn up and attend the camp, why can’t journalists? As John Vidal the Guardian’s Environmental Editor said after the Heathrow 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?

Climate camp’s media mismanagement, John Vidal – The Guardian

Just as we should not swallow the police line that everything is going to be softly-softly community policing we should not accept the camp’s line that everything there is compost toilets and renewable energy.

It is our job to report events as they happen, not as others would tell us they happened.

I was a bit bemused by this too, goes against Climate Camp’s anti-authoritarian principles.

I’ll be attending the camp and intend to blog and tweet while I’m there. I emailed the Press team yesterday to ask how their Media Access Policy affects people doing this, wondering if I’ll be getting a slapped wrist for using Qik and Twitpic etc. They replied:

“in the handbook that will be handed out to all campers, there will be a section providing guidelines for people who will be taking photos and
videos in this capcity – asking people to bascvially just do it with respect” (sic)

Interested to see what those guidelines are because if the idea is to basically just do it with respect, surely that’s the only guideline required? Or am I reading into it too much?

Indeed, if ordinary campers are allowed to tweet and blog away why can’t journalists?

No doubt everyone will be encouraged to use the Indymedia tent as in previous years, in 2007 when I asked to photograph inside the Indymedia tent they told me I wasn’t allowed, you can now see that very same tent on Wikipedia.

It’s nothing more than an attempt to control the story and the bizarre belief that all journalists are evil, invasive people who will be sticking their lenses everywhere.

Why should journalists have to sign a code of conduct when every other person on the camp is allowed to report freely?

Part of the issue with the media access policies is that the camp media team have spent the last few years improving it. As I understand it they are beholden to the organising meetings and the views of those campers participating – some of whom are far less friendly towards the press than the media team.

Part of the restrictions imposed previously has been in order to minimise any confrontation between other campers and members of the press, rather than to control the story. As we all (including the camp press team) know, if someone wants to go all undercover they can – snap a drunken hippy here, half hear a conversation there, hatchet job ahoy etc.

Whilst the policies are contradictory to a ludicrous degree, as Pilger and others who have worked in the same field for years have testified, but you can see where the policies stem from (including the rubbish that has been written by certain papers in the past).

If there was no policy at all, then you can be sure the ‘camp’ as it constitutes itself would hold a meeting and ban all press from the site.

It is impossible to reconcile the two conflicting ideas that anyone can turn up and attend the camp and that journalists are only allowed on site between 10 and 6 or longer by signing a code of conduct.

As Vidal says journalists are citizens too, we have no more right to report or photograph than anyone else, yet because we are professionals we somehow have less right to be in a field with anybody else who wishes to attend?

There will no doubt be undercover journalists at the camp this year, as there will no doubt be undercover police as there were last year and at the G20 Climate Camp earlier this year.

At any other event being an accredited journalist affords you more access, not less.

Same complaint from some photographers as every year despite the camp media access policy becoming more open every year. The article is inaccurate too, stating that the a previous policy allowed for blacklisting yet that was only a draft proposal and quite rightly rejected by the camp itself.

It’s really not hard to conceive the difference between a photographer and an non-photographer (such as a ‘citizen’ or print journalist). One has a camera and points it at people who then feel uncomfortable and self conscious, the others don’t.
While photographers may feel it is there right to point that camera anywhere they like at any time, others feel it is there right to have some privacy occasionally and punch photographers in the face when they intrude. I for one would rather that didn’t happen and am glad some thought has been given to an access policy even if it is full of contradictions.

The camp is no more open than previous years, all we have gotten is longer access. And that has only been after complaining bitterly each year, like we are again this year.

The framing of this discussion has changed slightly now that the camp has been set up on common land, something which I’ve addressed in another blog post.