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