The National Union of Journalists has called on the Home Office to meet with representative associations after several incidents pitted police officers against press photographers.
The call comes after the Metropolitan Police announced that it would investigate the actions of one of its officers after he was caught on video trying to prevent press photographers form covering protests in front of the Greek embassy in London.
The incident took place on 08 December when two photojournalists were covering protests sparked by the shooting of a youth in Athens. While at work, a police officer deliberately obstructed them, trying to snatch away a digital SLR used by one of the press photographers, Marc Vallee. Along with Jason Parkinson, he has complained of being physically removed from any area from which they could document events.
'The police must remember that they have responsibilities towards the media,' says NUJ legal officer Roy Mincoff. 'Even where a protest is itself illegal, the media have a right to report on events and the police should not be taking action with the intention of obstructing journalists in their work.
'There are clear guidelines that discuss how the police should work with the media, and officers policing demonstrations need to be made aware of their responsibilities. The police know very well our concerns around cases like this and it's simply unacceptable for our members to continue to have problems when covering protests. Such basic infringements of our members' rights must stop.'
The incident was caught on video, which BJP published on its blog - 1854.eu.
The Metropolitan Police said that an investigation will be launched. 'The officer featured in this clip will be investigated regarding his conduct with a member of the media. There are clear service guidelines that all officers are expected to adhere to that protect the rights of media,' a spokesman said.
'The Metropolitan Police Service seeks to protect the interests and rights of media to do their job, through educating all our staff within the Service. Before every operation all our staff are briefed as to the role of the media and wherever operationally possible to facilitate them. This was a spontaneous demonstration that at points included outbreaks of disorder, which required an emergency response from police.'
However, days later, another press photographer was stopped and detained under section 44 of the Terrorism Act while covering a wedding.
Jess Hurd was detained for more than 45 minutes after she was stopped on Wednesday 10 December. The photojournalist had been covering the wedding of a couple from Dale Farm in Essex, the UK's largest travellers' site.
Hurd had been covering the wedding and had followed the couple to the Ramada Docklands hotel in east London for the wedding reception. At around 4.50pm, guests started leaving the reception. Hurd followed them and while shooting stills and video she bumped into a police car parked outside the hotel.
Hurd continued shooting the guests, but was called back by the officers. She was detained under section 44 of the Terrorism Act, which allows police authorities to question anyone they suspect are acting suspiciously. Her camera was forcefully removed from her, BJP has learnt, and while she showed her press card, three police officers insisted on viewing the footage she had taken. Hurd was detained for 45 minutes and told not to use 'any of the footage that showed the police car or officers, for copyright reasons'.
'Any officer that suspects an offence has been committed has the right to detain you,' a Metropolitan press officer told BJP. 'Because you are a press photographer does not preclude you from being stopped under section 44 of the Terrorism Act. If the officer thought the photographer acted suspiciously and especially if it was in a sensitive place, he had a right to detain and question the photographer.'
The Police have argued that Hurd was filming in a sensitive place due to its proximity to the London City Airport.
The incidents followed a late October meeting between the NUJ and Vernon Coaker, the minister with responsibility for security, counter-terrorism, crime and policing. The meeting was called to try to improve relations between press photographers and police officers. Last week, BJP received a copy of a letter sent by Coaker to Jeremy Dear, the Union's general secretary.
In the letter dated 03 December, Coaker confirmed that photography could be limited in public places in special circumstances. 'This may be on the grounds of national security or there may be situations in which the taking of photographs may cause or lead to public order situations or inflame an already tense situation or raise security considerations. Additionally, the police may require a person to move on in order to prevent a breach of the peace or to avoid a public order situation or for the person's own safety and welfare or for the safety and welfare of others'.
The minister also cited section 44 of the Terrorism Act to justify such measures. However, the broad definition could allow police officers to legally prevent photographers, including amateurs or press-card carrying photographers, to document events such as protests or any other kind of incidents.
The NUJ has asked for further meetings with the Home Office to discuss the situation.
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