Journalists under fire from protesters and police at G8 summit

By Hamish Mackay and Caitlin Pike

Journalists covering the G8 summit at Gleneagles this week have come under fire from protesters and the police.

Forces in Scotland, who were involved in running battles with
protesters in Edinburgh and Central Scotland, are angry that
journalists became part of the story.

Some commentators have
accused the journalists of concentrating on violent protests by
anarchists rather than peaceful demonstrations in support of the Make
Poverty History campaign.

Journalists and broadcasters on the
ground in Edinburgh found themselves being corralled with the
protesters by riot police, including specialist squads from England.

Police tactics were to surround hot spots of trouble by containing the protesters within grids.

This
meant that journalists too close to the action were caught up in the
blocked areas and not allowed to leave – on occasions for periods of up
to three hours.

A top Scottish policeman told Press Gazette on
Wednesday: “The media – especially TV cameramen and newspaper
photographers – have become too close and too involved in the action
and made our jobs that much more difficult.

“Many of the media
people were dressed very similar to protesters – in jeans and T-shirts
– and we simply did not know which was which.

“This was
compounded by the fact that many of the protesters carry video
equipment or cameras to take photographs of the police as part of their
intimidation strategy.

“In the Edinburgh protests on Monday in the city centre, the media were almost acting as agents provocateur.”

Meantime
the press were criticised for dwelling too much on the trouble spots
and too little on peaceful protests which were carried out without any
trouble, including the city centre Make Poverty History march on
Saturday which involved 250,000 people.

Iain MacWhirter, the
Herald columnist, wrote: “The Black Bloc anarchists knew they held the
undivided attention of the world’s media.

“Press and TV people at times outnumbered the few hundred demonstrators in Princes Street.

“I
don’t know how the police could tell the difference. However, I’m
afraid the lesson of these demonstrations is that violence works.

“The Battle of Princes Street was a minor public disorder, but it was magnified out of all proportion.”

Gavin
Hewitt, covering the G8 for BBC News, said: “These are extremely
difficult conditions in which to report because we’re covering such a
vast area and because of the security issues.

“There are
roadblocks all over the place, some because of protesters and some set
up by the police, making it very difficult for us to deploy.”

Hewitt
said that he and the television crews were able to negotiate their way
past some of the roadblocks but had been stranded at others. After
losing a camera at the G8 summit in Genoa in 2001, Hewitt was
particularly concerned about Black Bloc protesters “going for” cameras.

“There are clashes with the police – some police are helpful to us and others are very edgy.

“Questions
have been raised about whether the police operation was necessary but
there was a lot of violence overnight (Tuesday). On the other hand
you’ve got ordinary protesters walking 20 to 30 miles to Auchterarder
to protest peacefully.”

He and his crew were spending much of the
time covering the A9 road between Stirling and Auchterarder because a
lot of the side roads were blocked and journalists’ access was limited.

Evening
Standard reporter Andrew Gilligan was bundled out of a meeting by
anti-G8 protesters on Sunday after being recognised as a journalist.

Former
BBC Radio Four Today correspondent Gilligan was at Edinburgh University
students’ union building covering a meeting of the Dissent anarchist
group on Sunday.

He was standing near the back of the meeting when he said he was “denounced” by one of the protesters.

He
said: “The meeting instantly descended into chaos with a mob of dozens
of people screaming at me, grabbing me, tearing my clothes and trying
to take my bag. My glasses were snatched and kindly reconfigured into a
pince-nez. I lost the bag after a struggle.”

Sky News
correspondent Alex Rossi told Press Gazette: “The police I have dealt
with have been fine, quite responsive and most of the protesters are
pretty goodnatured.

“Obviously journalists are a target as the anarchists see them as part of capitalist global order.

“Being
a Sky News correspondent has implications because of the Murdoch link.
I try to blend in by wearing a black jacket and jeans.”

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