Climate Camp: An Open Letter

2009-08-28_K8K0058 (1)

What happened
Yesterday afternoon as my colleague Marc Vallée and I were leaving Climate Camp we found a group of people arguing around the SWP stall that was selling newspapers and leaflets outside the entrance to the camp.

As we went in to take photographs the group arguing with the SWP quickly turned their attention to us, shouting loudly that we had not asked their permission before photographing them. They were immediately aggressive and threatening, I managed to calm the ones around me and walk away, however, one young man was persistently threatening towards Marc.

They stood a few metres away from the camp, talking for several minutes as Marc explained that he was an independent freelance journalist and that as a matter of principle he would not delete any photographs. The young man insisted that he did not like his photograph being taken and that Marc delete any photographs he had of him. He repeatedly threatened to grab Marc’s camera and delete the pictures himself or smash the camera.

After a while we felt that the situation had calmed enough to walk away. Marc said that they should both shake hands and walk away and offered his hand. The man did not take it and as we turned to leave he tried to grab the camera off Marc’s shoulder.

I stepped in shouting ‘Oi’ and as I did the man took a step back and kicked me hard in the stomach. We backed away and then walked away from the camp, checking that they were not following us.

What happens next
We realise that these few people and one incident are not representative of the camp as we have covered the movement for some years now. However, we believe that the camp’s policy towards photographers and the media have created an environment that sets the stage for this behaviour to happen. The atmosphere created by your policies and attitude towards photographers worringly parallels the anti-terror laws and attitude that we find the police using against photographers.

It is unacceptable to use violence and the threat of violence to intimidate journalists. We do not allow the police to do it and we will not allow protesters to do it either.

We would be well within our rights to go to the police and press charges, however, we are not willing to jeopardise our close relationship with so many of those in the protest movement.

We ask the man who assaulted us to come forward and apologise and that the camps organisers unequivocally condemn his actions. We would also ask the Camp’s organisers to seriously consider their responsibility for the negative atmosphere they have created within their movement towards journalists.

The media are not your enemy, but nor should we be your implicit friends either. We are independent and will report all sides of the story truthfully without fear or favour and that should be what you want of us too.

Signed,

Jonathan Warren
Marc Vallée

The above is an open letter that has been sent to the Climate Camp media team.

Behaving more and more like the heavy-handed police officers they were complaining about at the G8. Something which only come to light properly
because of journalists.

I cannot believe how utterly unaware of the irony some of these ‘protestors’ are.
The Climate Camp leadership has a lot to answer for.

“The media are not your enemy” you say. Well I think the media is often the enemy of environmental campaigners and activists, given the number of damning stories which have been completely fabricated, and sometimes used to justify police repression.

I think what you mean is freelance reporters are not your enemy.

Or, freelance reporters like yourselves who cover protest movement stories.

“The atmosphere created by your policies and attitude towards photographers worringly parallels the anti-terror laws and attitude that we find the police using against photographers.”

I think that’s a bit strong, given the widespread abuse the police have dished out to photographers, especially with regard to anti-terror laws. You’re using the out of order actions of one geezer to criticise the climate camp media policy. In fact photographers and videographers have been filming all week without incident _inside_ the camp, and you yourself were there without a minder yesterday, without any trouble from those at the camp. This has been the most media friendly camp yet!

Yes, make your critique of the media policy by all means, but don’t try and tie up the media policy with the police’s actions in misusing or misapplying legislation on a widespread scale.

If the incident had happened inside the camp there would no doubt have been no end of people stepping in to protect you from any physical violence.

I’m really sorry to hear that you and Marc, (who I know) had trouble yesterday. It sounds like the guy who attacked you was a bit of a thug to be honest, although I think you are right that he is fairly unrepresentative of the people at Climate Camp.

I think what you’ve written above is a very calm and measured response to his violence, but I’d like to see Climate Camp make an official statement as you asked for, I think that’s a very reasonable request in the circumstances.

marc valley the only honest journo on the planet…not, condemnation is meaningless, you say your not blaming climate camp and next sentence you blame them and make it their responsibility for this guy, you can’t compare it to the police issue marc etc has had to deal with, the police are professionals doing a job climate camp people aren’t.

I think you have been very good spirited after what you have been through. I believe that climate camps media policy this year has been a little bit too tight. I know they are trying to protect there side of the story and to keep thing positive.

However in the mainstream media it does seem all the stuff they report of climate camp is all staged due to the lack of openness. You do get a very different impression of climate camp by reading blogs of people who are there visiting.

Climate camp is a community and the community should be condemning the actions of those doing wrong. If the climate camp community do not want police evolvement in climate camp then they are are going to have to police themselves.

“Something which only come to light properly because of journalists.”

That’s funny, I seem to remember dozens of news media journalists at the G20 protests focussing almost exclusively on getting good pictures of a guy with a head wound shouting at police and someone breaking the windows of RBS, while multiple instances of police abuse and brutality, including Ian Tomlinson’s death, came to light only because of protestors and bystanders who were not journalists taking photos and filming.

Can’t say I’m surprised with this.

The people I spoke to from Thames Valley Climate Action (see http://www.flickr.com/photos/parkylondon/sets/72157622051768791/ for THAT back story) were claiming that the Camp was private property and they had the right to say who could and could not take pictures and what they could take pictures of.

The fact that the land they were “claiming” was open “Commons” land and an open PUBLIC space and thus evidently NOT private didn’t seem to matter. The fact that Climate Camp had used the fact that it was “Commons” to legalise their ability to use the land didn’t matter one jot.

It seems that it is “one rule for us, and one rule for everyone else”. I’ve heard them described as “EcoFascists”. Not a bad approximation. Two faced hypocrites would be better.

For the first poster, as you likely well know, there is no Climate Camp leadership. The whole camp is non-hierarchical.

To the authors of this post. Take a moment to step back from the bruised egos and hurt feelings of the incident. Imagining the situation occurring to me it would have been horrible and I would have been extremely angry indeed. However, I do not believe this public notice is at all the right way of proceeding. The first course of action, rather than berate them publically, should have been to make direct telephone contact with the CC Media Team informing them of the event. Then it could have been brought up in their daily open meeting. A meeting you could have also turned up at and brought this up at. I understand from Twitter you have contacted some of the Process team. You should have waited for their reply, particularly if you have any interest in the aims of this camp. This letter strikes me as two things.

First, reading the rest of this blog and your tweets, you yourselves have been quite hostile to CC in general and their media policy in particular from the beginning of the camp. Something about publishing this letter seems a little like lashing out, attempting to exact revenge as well as smear the good name of CC when you already believe their media policy is somehow oppressive (wrongly in my view, as I will explain in a moment). Climate Camp already face a hostile media environment. And you are at all surprised when you publish things like this? It smacks a little of self-importance, amplifying an isolated incident to a general indictment of policy.

Second, while in no way endorsing the violence the young man visited on your friend, which is totally opposed of the spirit of non-violent protest which CC attempts to embody as you realise, your attitude to the media policy being what it is, I can imagine how this situation unfolded. Already angry with this policy wandering around the camp, when an event occurred that was an example of it, the situation became quickly heated. from both sides – your friend insisting that the photos not be deleted became a matter of strong principle in the light of the larger media policy problem, and in a different situation, in a cooler moment, your friend may have thought that it was unnecessary to be quite so insistent. And ditto for the protester, who had been informed of the media policy and was attempting to enforce it, however wrongly. Now, the point of this ramble is – just as the situation you believe was catalysed by CC policy, perhaps, but equally your preexisting attitude to that policy played a role in that catalysation. Presented with an empirical example of that policy you and your friend put your foot down. The abstract policy had been a concrete person you could fight with and you went for it.

Finally a word on that policy. Is it really that difficult to ask someone to take their photo? Seriously? It is simple politeness, is easy and costs nothing. Those calling fascism or citing Orwell genuinely need to check themselves genuinely.

What planet is Alex living on? It is not for a press photographer – a proper journalist, not a propagandist with a video camera – to attend Climate Camp internal meetings. I know that Climate Camp has been calling for journalists to join in camp life, but this would be crossing an ethical line in the sand.

Instead of hectoring a journalist for going public about a violent assault upon his person, Climate Camp should be thanking him for not going to the police.

Climate Camp’s “media policy” is unenforceable, and journalists reporting on the camp have a job to do. That job is not to act as an extension of Climate Camp’s PR operation.

I think several journalists have been hostile to your dictatorial media policy. Marc and Jonathan are by no means the only ones. As far as self importance goes, pot, kettle and black are three words that come to mind right now.

In the UK photographers need no one’s permission to use their camera in a public place. The police and the state have attempted to erode this right by misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.

Climate camp, (being held on public common ground) decided to only let photojournalists in between 10.00am to 6.00pm, (great fro rolling news); they also insisted that at all times they be accompanied by minders to make sure “that consent is obtained from people being filmed and photographed” (this is legal rubbish. You don’t need permission in public and certainly not on common ground to take photos).

Some might call this news management. I would.

Indeed I heard a climate camp radio discussion where someone used the word ‘imbedded’ to describe a journalist who was ‘allowed’ to report what was going on. Imbedded is a term that most frequently used by the the MoD to describe the journalists who’s activities are managed by the MoD to ensure that they don’t take photos of, well, anything the MoD don’t want them to.

You say that the protester who attacked the photographer was ‘who had been informed of the media policy and was attempting to enforce it, however wrongly’. Great. So it’s now acceptable for protesters, on public common ground to, completely outside the law, decide to insist that they edit what images press photographers have taken.

Who watches the watchmen?

If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it’s a duck, at least until I see some evidence that it’s not. Please don’t somehow imagine that you can set yourselves up and act like the worst part of the state and then say that anyone who questions this needs to ‘check themselves genuinely’.

The freedom of the press is a right, not a privilege to be dispensed by you to people who you feel are acceptable. It’s high time you and others realised this, fast. If you erode our rights with your stupid and largely unnecessary ‘media policies’ not only do you make yourselves a legal laughing stock but you also aid the state in it’s attempts to remove the rights of everyone to document and record what happens around them freely and without intimidation or harassment.

Ask? We didn’t ask you good for nothing layabouts to invade our city and disrupt our businesses. Go and get a job.

Alex, to begin with I should say that I am not a photojournalist, but rather an accomplished amateur with ample experience in photographing people in public events – so I think I’m qualified to answer your last question.

The answer is: No. If you ask someone before taking a photograph, what you end up with is not a photograph of what’s happening, but a photograph of someone who is posing for a photograph. Which more often than not is somewhat silly (pick any Facebook account for embarassing examples), and not what a photographer wants. Jon might as well leave his gear at home and walk around the camp saying “Cheeeeeese…” while taking snaps with his mobile phone.

I could ramble on for quite awhile on the CC and its media policy (would have liked to be there, with my cameras, but flying in from Italy would sort of defeat the purpose of the CC wouldn’t it :) but work and time constraints say no, so I’ll leave it at this.

Press charges. This guy needs to learn that he can’t assault people just because he doesn’t like what they do for a living ! Despite what the CC says it is not against the law to photograph anybody at their camp, that’s a fact! As photographers the last thing we need is another person wandering around boasting about how he twatted a pap, and as protestors the last thing the CC needs is a violent thug using their cause to get his kicks ! I’m sure if it had happened on site that lots of people would’ve intervened, but it didn’t . what did happen was you got attacked , you are not a punch-bag , your rights as a human are just as important as the rights of those at the camp. Exercise your rights.

I’m sorry to hear of this totally unacceptable assault. Your message above sounds very reasonable. It seems the individuals you encountered were not representative of the wider Climate Camp, though I agree that it is inappropriate & ultimately self-defeating for CC to have such a restrictive media policy.

It is for any person to attend Climate Camp internal meetings. They are, as all processes on the camp, open and free, using consensus decision making. Did the authors of this post try before they launched into this self-seeking ‘open letter’? As for “hectoring a journalist for going public about a violent assault upon his person” no one from Climate Camp has done any such thing – I am not immediately associated with them (hence the references to ‘you’ are misplaced – I have not been within a mile of Blackheath) and as far as I know, direct contact between the authors and the Process and media team has been friendly.

I am not attempting to be rude, but I must say this. As I observed, calling the CC media policy ‘dictatorial’ is out of all proportion and comparing them to the state is ridiculous. Consider that comparison realistically: CC are asking politely for you to request to take people’s photograph, the state force everyone to have their photograph taken by CCTV and FIT Squads while denying photographers various rights associated with taking photos of the police for example. It is straight forward to me that CC media policy is a direct opposition to a culture of surveillance (you have to ask to take my photo) rather than an endorsement of it. Indeed, this is why the policy was invented in the first place. For example, the state are not above using press photographs to build up profiles of people they consider ‘dangerous’ ie legitimate peaceful protesters. The levels of indignation you rise to about this issue needs a sense of perspective. As for the accompanying person with you, I don’t see having a untrained, singular, youthful volunteer wandering around with you as akin to being ’embedded’ in a group of soldiers. I’m fairly sure they could stop you taking precisely nothing, unlike the MoD who can shove a rifle in your face. I do not think the charge of self-importance is too strong. Rather than concentrate on the pressing issues the entire camp is attempting to highlight – catastrophic climate change and the recent financial meltdown – one complains endlessly about a quite simple, and when compared to corporations (ever tried taking photos on their property?) extremely open and basically decent, media policy.

As for the post complaining about the artificiality of snaps when you ask permission, you wouldn’t need to have them posed, would you? Just say ‘hey is it okay if I take some photos of you setting up?’ ‘sure’ most likely or ‘no sorry, I’d rather not’. Done. Two seconds, everyone is a winner. The way some posters talk you might imagine a direct request has to be wired to some maze like bureaucracy before you can fire off. This is the way photographs of people hanging out in a camp should be taken when you are treating a person as an equal, not simply a subject of a photograph which will be then sold to a media outlet, perhaps to illustrate a story that the person would have not wished to illustrate, published entirely globally.

Journalists report, and reporting requires a degree of distance. Attendance at internal Climate Camp meetings would mean that the journalists concerned were actively taking part in the camp. Not even embedded war correspondents go that far, for to do so would be a violation of their codes of professional ethics.

Take, for example, the Grauniad’s initial coverage of Climate Camp, with all the live blogging and twittering (or whatever it’s called). I can tell you that this made a lot of people feel very uneasy about the resulting effect on journalistic standards.

As for the state seeing Climate Camp as “dangerous”, get over yourself. The state is certainly not your friend, but if it seriously saw you as a threat, the camp wouldn’t be taking place.

Climate Camp is at most a minor annoyance to the political establishment, in that it detracts from detailed policy discussion, and further polarises pubic debate. In feebler minds it draws in often spurious and confusing links, the result being an obsession with a personal lifestyle politics that one normally associates with the hand-wringing angst of the broadsheet Sunday supplements.

When it comes to the talk of a lack of leaders, and a decision making process that we are told is based solely on consensus, the language used by Climate Campers is becoming almost Animal-Farm-esque in its absurdity.

I’m talking about attendance of meetings to bring up the assault and have it discussed not to report on anything. This is the correct forum for complaints to be raised to CC.

Recently, the Police rounded up 114 people for simply having a meeting about protest – http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/apr/14/police-arrests-environment-campaigners – last year the policing operation for climate camp involved more than five police forces and cost millions and you think the state doesn’t view climate camp as a threat?

Talking about lifestyle politics betrays your ignorance of how the camp runs or its aims.

Again with the Orwell. On one hand, the CC has decided, by consensus (which means agreement of everyone present) a certain media stance (a reasonable one) on the other Stalinism. As I said before, check yourself before making these absurdist comparisons.

Who says that “This is the correct forum for complaints to be raised to CC”? You? Who put you in charge?

Having read Leon’s (Neal) experiences and your own, especially about the guy who was very much against having his picture taken and responded violently towards you I find it amazing to subsequently read, in their literature, as I try and ‘understand their community’ that…(and I have cut unrelevant parts of this below but not altered the context or the particular relevant wording!)

* Anyone who is responsible for violence, intimidation, harassment will by their behaviour exclude themselves from the camp.
* We reject any form of language and behaviour that perpetuates oppression, however unintentionally
* Other breaches of trust…

I’m sure others can seen the irony here ?!

Good response by yourselves to defuse the situation – Good response in refusing to delete any images – Good that you fought what must have been a natural desire to drop this guy!

I’m a working tog and can appreciate the difficulties you would have encountered and if I may quote you directly from your piece….”The media are not your enemy, but nor should we be your implicit friends either. We are independent and will report all sides of the story truthfully without fear or favour and that should be what you want of us too”.

Damn right – and you know what, the thing that makes this whole problem borderline ridiculous from the protestors (some of them, not all) point of view – they wouldn’t even know that even after this happened to you I’m willing to bet that if by some reason you were then allowed/wanted to crack on and continue taking pictures then you would have still have done it as per your quote above.

Shame they can’t see that.
All the best
Ian

The Climate Camp Media Team condemns violence against journalists and is saddened to hear of any distress caused by the incident that took place outside the camp on Sunday. The Climate Camp has seen upwards of 5,000 people pass through it’s gates over the weekend, many of whom are not directly involved in the day to day running of the camp.

Hey Jono.
It’s rubbish that people are resorting to violence but there is something in the fact that it should be people’s right to choose whether they are featured in photographs. I mean perhaps the man was a criminal or not supposed to be there that weekend etc etc there are many reasons why people would rather not have someone in possession of their face.

Is there a law that says people have to accept being photographed in a public place?

The state haven’t managed to present any such law in a FITWATCH trial. Taking peoples pictures against their will seems to me be a rather provocative thing to do. If they make it clear they don’t want to be photographed, then perhaps you should respect that. If you disrespect their wishes, they might not be respectful to you.

I fail to see how you can expect someone who had nothing to do with it, to apologise. How meaningful would that be be?

I’m not sure you are understanding this in full. This is about an attack on press freedom by individuals who in other circumstances would be the first to demand that photographers have the right to take photos of public events. This was not in a private home or even on private land, this was a public stall, on public land at an event that we were told where everybody was welcome.

It is a shame that some who have responded here are unable to undertand that press freedom means for all not people they choose.

“This is about an attack on press freedom by individuals who in other circumstances would be the first to demand that photographers have the right to take photos of public events.”

So, you think that journalists should be free to photograph us, even if we are not in agreement and are not engaged in some sort of action? So you lot have freedom, and we have none? As a supporter of FITWATCH I obviously think there are limits on the right to photograph people against their will in public places, especially when the photographs are being taken by those from the state or corporations.

If the argument is that all journos are good, and trustworthy, thats patently bollocks – and as for the public land – councils fence of public land for events that are not a free for all on a fairly regular basis. Have journos ever kicked off about that?

The gripe here seems to be that some journos feel insulted by guidelines that they claim they wouldn’t have broken anyway. Perhaps the guidelines weren’t aimed at them – and if they didn’t stop them from doing anything, why get so precious about it.

At the end of the day, is there any difference between your view and that of FIT? ie that we have no right to do anything if we object to being filmed against our will.

What was the point of a photo of an altercation with a SWP stall anyway? Thats what this whole sad saga is about. No?

I get very pissed off with stupid arrogant anarchist eco-warriors who think they’re all so bloody right to impose their “collective” rules, at least the socialists are open about having a ruling body. All this about harmony and collective decision making is rubbish, I’ve worked with anarchist groups and Anarcho-sydicalists around Europe and the way it’s practiced in the UK is a joke.

Too many cooks (egos), not enough workers. Middle class hooldlems

the arrogence of journos and photogs always astounds me. you think you have a right to take pics of whoever, whenever and wherever. but if you do, and you probably do, then equally people have got a right to ask you to stop and to delete those photos.

The organisers at the climate camp showed a level of naivety in dealing with the police, the media and local residents that I had trouble understanding. It was film journalists who helped them at the G20 camp who are now their enemies ?

The comparison with the police who clearly learnt the lessons of last years camp and the G20 protests was clear. The police came out of the media looking reasonable, polite, well intentioned, the camp looked like the gathering of Gilles Webbley-Hogg types at a festival combined with the anarchist loonies who seemed to want for little more than a drink and a fight with a copper.

If the camp wants media coverage then it has to work with the media, if it starts to impose its own rules and restrictions then journos will go undercover, photograph covertly and the camp will lose. I know of at least one photographer who under assingnment from a national redtop spent the week at the camp taking photos, nobody knew or understood what he was doing but boy does he have a large number of pictures.

Expect payback

Mike Y says: “Expect payback”

I think thats exactly the reason that many people who joined the camp to take direct action didn’t want to be part of a 24/7 media circus. They understand that at the end of the day journalists and corporate photographers are motivated by money first and foremost, and that they have no qualms about selling their pics and stories to the worst of the corporate media who will use it to continue their vilification of anarchists, and those who take direct action.

If the police learnt their lesson, it was the corporate media who helped set up the conditions for the repression that many have received over the years with ridiculous police claims of hidden arms caches, samurai swords and hundreds and thousands of violent protestors etc etc being prominently and uncritically reported before every major anarchist/direct action event in the last few decades. In this way they contributed to the out of control policing which killed Ian Tomlinson, and it is the ultimate irony that it was footage from a banker at an anti-banker protest that lead to the corporate media doing a temporary reversal and reporting the harsh excesses of the police at G20 and Kingsnorth. Many of us know that it won’t be long before the pendulum swings back and the role of the mainstream media reverts to distorted demonisation with uncritical reporting of police lies, folowed by even more repression.

Anyone come up with a law that says we have to passively accept being photographed against our will yet?

And on demonisation – witness how Jonathon and Mark have used the action of one individual to demonise the whole camp…

Funny I thought it was J and M pointing out how they were attacked for doing something quite lawful, are there some sort of special rules for climate campers ?

Of course as you are the ftp who helps moderate the Indymedia UK site which hid all references to this attack I think we can assume you have an axe to grind here. A little research into your history shows you were very lucky to have photographers around you in the occupied territories of Palestine a few years ago. Have you forgotten ?

I don’t see a problem with them complaining they were attacked. The issue is them using it to demonise climate camp – and demanding an apology from Climate Camp for the actions of someone whose identity remains unknown.

I don’t see what the mainly Palestinian photographers I encountered in Nablus have to do with this matter. The mainstream media in the UK has little to be proud of over it’s one sided pro-Israel coverage of the Occupation.

Sorry to hear about this hassle. This is what the SWP are like. Self-righteous thugs.

..and they have the nerve to call groups like the EDL the fascists!

Hope no one got seriously hurt and keep up the good work.