Fears for safety of TV crews after riot footage ruling

 

Television news teams fear they could become targets for rioters after they were forced to hand over footage of the Leeds disturbances to the police.

BBC Leeds, ITN, Sky News and Yorkshire Television were ordered to hand over footage of last month’s riots in the Harehills area of the city last Friday after police overturned an earlier court ruling against the seizure.

Under Section 39 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, police this week have also asked for footage of race riots in Bradford. The news organisations will go to court next month to oppose the seizure of footage of riots in Oldham.

Bradford-based agency Guzelian won its battle to keep its film after a judge at Leeds Crown Court rejected a police application to seize 29 photographs. The agency argued the photographs, taken by Richard Hanson, did not identify any suspects or show anyone committing criminal acts.

"While this verdict doesn’t stop police obtaining images that show specific crimes, it does offer some scope for arguing that any seizure be limited to such images, and not the entire output of a photographer’s day," said Hanson.

After a month of disturbances, broadcasters are certain that police have sufficient powers to seize the footage, but are determined to make a stand by fighting the orders in court.

A spokesman for Sky News said it had felt it "necessary" to oppose the seizures to safeguard the safety of camera crews and reporters in future.

Ian Cundall, BBC North’s acting head of local and regional programmes, said: "We opposed the request and argued it could put reporters in danger if they are regarded as evidence gatherers for the police."

The police told the news organisations that they wanted footage because CCTV and their surveillance crews had failed to secure enough evidence to prosecute suspects.

Jake Fowler, acting editor of the BBC’s Look North programme, said he was concerned that the seizure of footage could add to the dangers faced by journalists who report on the riots.

Reporters are already being sent out with specialist teams of security advisers who, he said, are more used to working in conflict situations in the former Yugoslavia, but have been helping journalists to be more "streetwise".

By Julie Tomlin

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