So it goes

Yesterday saw the last day that the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights took evidence on the committee looking into Policing and Protest. Vernon Coker, the minister for Policing, Crime and Security was questioned by MPs and you can listen to his evidence here. He gives assurances that after meeting with the NUJ in October new and revised guidance was issued to officers about dealing with the media.

We must not under any circumstances unwittingly put ourselves in a situation where photographers, journalists or others may feel that they do not have the right and do not believe that they can pursue their professional job and the public interest.

Vernon Coaker MP

Yet one day before when photojournalist Marc Vallée and videographer Jason Parkinson were covering a protest outside the Greek Embassy, both were assaulted and restricted from carrying out their jobs by Police.

Parkinson has posted a video rush of one of the incidents on Current.tv which you can view here:

What I find most shocking is not the officer placing his hand over both the journalists camera’s, clearly he’s not read the new media guidelines, it’s when he says ‘Scum’ as he walks away. Not only an incredibly stupid thing to say in front of a camera, but extremely unprofessional to say the least. He was an armed diplomatic protection officer and should definitely know better.

Sadly this is the latest in a long series of ongoing incidents of Police intimidating and attacking the press.

Collateral Damage

This isn’t over-zealous policing this is a co-ordinated and systematic abuse of media freedom.

Jeremy Dear, General Secretary – NUJ

Those the words of Jeremy Dear, addressing the TUC in Brighton this week. His speech was in support of a motion expressing concerns over civil liberties, specifically the use of counter-terrorism laws and SOCPA against protesters and campaigners.  

Also the targeting of journalists by Police, he mentions the cases of Shiv Malik and Sally Murrer, but also the work of Police Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT)

Originally set up to overtly surveil Football fans and political protesters they have grown from a small unit attached to Metropolitan Police’s Central Operations to a nation-wide police tactic to gather intelligence on potential criminal activity and to deter known ‘trouble makers’ from doing just that.

Sounds like a good idea – if you’ve done nothing wrong you have nothing to hide, right?

But what has ended up happening is harassment of individuals who may have committed offences in the past or associated with those who have by being constantly filmed, photographed and stopped & searched by police at protests or other events. Even when they have done nothing but turn up at a political protest.

An article in the Guardian earlier this year looks at how this tactic of overt surveillance is being adapted from protests and football matches and turned on youths in Essex to harass them essentially into staying at home.

But what the FIT have also been doing which is even more worrying is photographing and filming journalists at these events. Something which they deny happens and if it does any images they do take of journalists those images are deleted. We are simply collateral damage.

As one of the journalists who has been affected by this I feel a lot differently. The recent example of Climate Camp last month comes to mind.

I and six other journalists were in a McDonalds down the road from where the camp was being held (not very glamorous but they have free WiFi) filing our images. When around 8 officers appeared outside with video cameras and started filming us.

There were no protesters from the camp inside or anywhere nearby. They were literally standing outside filming us working, this was not collateral damage, this was specific targeting and harassment of journalists.

One of the journalists who was also there was Jason Parkinson and over the past few months he has been putting together a film that catalogues these incidents so that it can be put beyond doubt that the police are doing what they say does not happen. It’s a short ten minute film that will be part of a longer, more in depth film later this year. You can watch it here:

In the last 24hrs since it was posted it has attracted over 500 viewers, please watch it, send it to colleagues and vote for it on the current tv website. There’s much more to come on this story. 

Blurry Faces & Shady Deals

Chief Superintendent Bill Tillbrook, head of the CO19 firearms unit
Chief Superint. Bill Tillbrook of the CO19 firearms unit, not seen here.

Last Wednesday a group of 12 photographers, headed up by Nigel Howard of the Evening Standard, went to a meeting with senior officers from the Met Police CO19 firearms unit

Press Gazette has the full story here And quite frankly it’s a shocking tale. Apparently an agreement was made where picture desks would be issued guidelines from the Met Police to blur or pixellate the faces of armed officers.

The current guidelines that were drawn up by the NUJ and BPPA took two years negotiation with the Met police and since early 2007 were adopted nationally by ACPO.

So for Nigel Howard to go a meeting that no professional photographers body was represented at and make a unilateral agreement that photo desks and editors should pixellate the faces of armed officers is a serious affront to press freedom.

The press need to be able to hold the police to account, especially armed officers. The stories of Scott Hornby and Alan Lodge seem pertinent here. Officers should be identifiable and accountable to the public. 

Thankfully the NUJ and BPPA have come out strongly against this ‘deal':

There are already clear guidelines detailing how relations between the press and the police should be conducted. Those guidelines have been agreed between ACPO, the NUJ and other news organisations. We would have serious concerns if they were to be undermined by unilateral action by a specific branch of the police force.

Jeremy Dear, General Secretary – NUJ

It is unacceptable for the police to discuss, informally, with a group of independent photographers, matters such as this and them to then be reported as some form of agreement. 

Jeff Moore, Chairman – BPPA

Hopefully that will put a nail in this agreement and ward off future attempts by the police or rogue photographers trying to cut backroom deals.