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.
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.
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?
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’m a Photographer, Not a Terrorist! is a new campaign group set up by photographers who are fed up with the restrictions photographers face while working on the streets or, in some cases, even fields.
We will fight back against the use of terrorism legislation against photographers and the abuse by the police of stop & search powers simply because people are taking photographs.
We’ll collect accounts from people who have been stopped and searched or harassed by officials for taking photographs in public places and we have produced a ‘Stop & Search Bust Card’ summarising your rights when stopped under the Terrorism Acts. When the officers performing searches sometimes don’t seem to know the law themselves it’s vital for photographers to know what the police can and can’t do.
The police won’t even tell us where S44 (allowing police to stop and search anyone without any suspicion in a designated area) is in force so we’ll be mapping where people have reported being stopped and searched to build up a picture of how the powers are being used and abused.
We’ll be doing more than just watching, reporting and raising awareness. After the success of the event outside New Scotland Yard highlighting the Alice in Wonderland craziness of new laws against photographing police officers earlier this year we’ll be arranging more events around the country to expose how ridiculous this legislation is and how pointless the restrictions are in pseudo-public places like shopping centres or Canary Wharf.
We are photographers, not terrorists. We need to fight back against this repressive legislation and start a proper campaign for the right to photograph before photography becomes a part of history rather than a way of recording it.
From left to right: Sir Geoffrey Bindman, Suzanne Breen, Michelle Stanistreet, Mark Stephens, Jo Glanville and Bill Goodwin.
Last night Suzanne Breen, Northern Ireland Editor of the (Dublin) Sunday Tribune, flew in to the NUJ headqaurters on Grays Inn Road to talk to members about the case being brought against her by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) under the Terrorism Act (2000) to reveal her sources in the Real IRA.
Also speaking were Bill Goodwin, the technology journalist who set an EU legal precident to protect his source in a case brought against him by Tetra. Sir Geoffary Bindman senior lawyer and founder of Bindmans solicitors. Jo Glanville from Index on Censorship and Mark Stephens media and libel specialist lawyer with Finers Stephens Innocent.
The panel were in agreement that the the security services use of of journalists as intelligence gathers by using production orders against them was unacceptable and a threat not only to press freedom but in Breens case a threat to her life if she is forced to reveal her source.
Commander Broadhurst addresses the NUJ Photographers Conference
On Monday Commander Broadhurst, head of public order at the Metropolitan Police spoke at the NUJ Photographers Conference and with all the events over the past few years he received a rather frosty response from those there.
The Commander was heckled off the platform as he began to question the legitimacy of those carrying press cards. He asked in his speech, probably rhetorically but received some very pointed answers:
I don’t know what vetting system there is for holding an NUJ card. Can anybody who has a camera apply for an NUJ card? […] How do we manage who’s doing what? legitimately or otherwise.
– Commander Broadhurst, Metropolitan Police
He went on to question the motives of journalists working in public order situations and it quickly descended into a shouting match between the conference and the Commander. Probably sensing he had dug himself deep enough into a hole he left the platform and went into answering questions.
It’s well worth listening to both the Commanders speech and the discussion afterwards as it probably explains a lot towards the treatment of press photographers by police over the last few years. If the man in charge of public order policing doesn’t know how the UK Press Card works it’s little surprise so few police respect it.
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.
Yesterday the Brighton based group SmashEDO held a protest against the arms manufacturer EDO MBM whose factory is based in Moulescoomb just outside of Brighton. Past protests outside the factory have been violent, with protesters getting inside the compound, smashing windows and entering the factory.
This time was no different, with arrests taking place before the march had started and riot police being deployed using batons, shields and CS spray.
But half an hour before the protest was due to start as my colleague and I sat in the car a member of the Police Forward Intelligence Team (FIT) began filming us from across the road before coming over and asking who we were. After identifying ourselves as members of the press and showing our UK Press cards the officer continued to question and film us.
Whilst this was not as bad as the treatment we received at Climate Camp earlier in the year where our car was continually stopped and searched by police, in one case officers knew who I was and that I was journalist before I even spoke to them but I was searched regardless.
Later on when we left the car and stood under the covering of a railway station to shelter from the rain whilst we waited for the protest to begin Police told us that we would have to move and weren’t allowed to photograph near the station where protesters would be arriving.
There is no law against photographing railway stations or their surrounds, this officer was clearly being officious and confrontational, but I felt that if I had taken a picture I would of been very quickly bundled into the back of a police van.
During the protest journalists were also assaulted by police, photojournalist Marc Vallée was pushed back violently as he was photographing protesters and photographer Guy Smallman was bitten by a police attack dog which required medical attention.
The Police’s job would certainly be easier if we weren’t around to photograph what they do, but there is a clearly a very good reason to do so. This job isn’t getting any easier.
You can view my full set of images of the protest here
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.