30 June, 2009 – Editors Weblog
Members of the UK Parliament have spoken out against the police force’s’dismissive’ treatment of journalists covering protests. They issued a reminder that the police should adhere to the guidelines of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) which outlines how the forces should treat registered members of the press.
The study of police-journalist relations was contained in a report investigating policing methods used to contain protesters outside the G20 meeting in London last April. The report was released today by the Home Affairs Committee of the House of Commons.
The report maintains that while the police did not deliberately target reporters covering the protests, there were efforts to hinder journalists from passing through police cordons. MPs disagreed with the arguments presented by Met Police commander Robert Broadhurst that ‘when there is a disorderly situation they [journalists] have no more right than the ordinary citizen to come through all our cordons’.
MPs affirmed that this statement was an ‘apparent contradiction’ of ACPO guidelines which state ‘We [the police] should actively help them carry out their responsibilities provided they do not interfere with our’.
The report condemned the use of the Public Order Act to disperse journalists without justification. It warns that the misuse of Section 14 ‘sends out completely the wrong signal of the police’s intentions and does not help the police build strong relationships with the media.’
Equally, the report advised that reporters, particularly freelance journalists should receive more comprehensive briefing before they are to cover large demonstrations. To clarify and ‘codify’ the relationship between police and journalists, it suggested that the briefings given to ‘media members before public protest be published on the website of the police and the National Union of Journalists prior to the event.’
The NUJ has been campaigning for months for senior figures to address the malpractices of front line police officers in their treatment of members of the media. NUJ Legal Officer Roy Mincoff supports the committee’s findings, expressing on the website: ‘This report sends a clear signal to the police that they must address our concerns.’ He made it clear however, that reports and discussion must produce serious changes: ‘If improvements can’t be made then ministerial intervention must be made to ensure the guidelines on dealing with the media are properly implemented.’
The relationship between journalists and the police has been awarded a considerable amount of time in the Commons over past months. It appears that MPs concerned to bring the issue to the board are in favour of furthering the protection of journalists’ rights in face of the security services. The cementing of existing legislation and the clarification of relationships should in theory facilitate the work of reporters covering public disturbances and other acts of investigative journalism.
Sources : Press Gazette
National Union of Journalists