Riot footage handover 'turns every journalist into a target'

Media organisations who handed over riot footage to Scotland Yard have turned ‘every photographer, videographer and journalist into potential targets”, the NUJ claimed today.

The BBC, ITN and Sky News handed over unbroadcast footage to the Met this week after the force obtained production orders under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Reports claim The Daily Telegraph has also handed over footage.

While the NUJ has condemned the courts for approving the court order it also expressed “disappointment’that ‘leading broadcasters and at least one national newspaper’had agreed .

The union is now calling on media organisations to challenge the court orders, citing the principle in its code of conduct promising to protect confidential sources and material gathered in the course of a journalist’s work.

‘By handing over footage, these media organisations have turned every photographer, videographer and journalist into potential targets and this will only lead to an increase in the number of assaults on the press while covering events,” claimed NUJ London Photographers’ branch secretary Jason Parkinson.

In a statement the union said it was ‘appalled’at the decision to hand over the footage, claiming it places ‘all journalists at greater risk when covering public order or other related stories”.

It added: ‘We believe the police requests are unnecessary because they used surveillance teams during the riots and spend public money gathering their own intelligence which should provide enough material without compromising journalists.’

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: ‘Journalists played a critical role in informing the public about the riots in August and our members were attacked whilst doing their jobs during the civil unrest. Covering protests is already difficult and the danger increases if the footage gathered whilst reporting events is seized and used by the police.’

In a report yesterday the BBC quoted a spokesperson saying: ‘Police requests for BBC untransmitted material are dealt through our legal department, regardless of the subject matter.

‘We require requests for untransmitted material to be made through the courts. A production order requiring footage of the riots was served on the BBC and a court agreed that the material should be supplied.”

An ITN spokesman told the BBC that ‘on some occasions when the police apply to a judge for a court order to force the release of such material, we have challenged the police’s application”, while a Sky News spokeswoman added: ‘On occasions, as has happened with some of our footage of the riots, where police request untransmitted material and an order is obtained we will comply with it.

The Guardian reported that The Daily Telegraph has also disclosed material to the police after being served with a production order, but said The Times and The Guardian had consistently challenged the police requests.

Index on Censorship has condemned the Met’s use of production orders.

Chief executive John Kampfner said: ‘During the riots, we saw several incidents of photographers and broadcasters being attacked. The implication that any footage taken by them will be handed over to authorities will only serve to endanger on-the-ground media workers further in the future.

‘Already this week we have seen widespread outrage at attempts to make Guardian journalist Amelia Hill hand over journalistic materials. The Metropolitan Police Service is showing a worrying disregard for the principle of a free media.”

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