A legal challenge is being mounted against a court order forcing news organisations to hand over footage of the Dale Farm eviction to Essex police.
The NUJ has submitted an appeal behalf of NUJ member Jason Parkinson and the BBC, ITN and BSkyB are also opposing the decision.
John Hardie, chief executive of ITN, said he was concerned about the ‘seemingly automatic assumption’police can demand access to unbroadcast footage
‘Rather than being a rare exception where requests are made for otherwise unobtainable evidence of serious wrongdoing, the wide-ranging Dale Farm production order is in danger of becoming the norm and we are alarmed at the frequency and nature of these requests,’he said.
Hardie also revealed ITN resisting a separate attempt from police to obtain footage of a demonstration outside the Syrian embassy. ‘We feel it is a fundamental right for our journalists to operate without the fear that their material will habitually be obtained by the police,’he added.
‘This issue strikes at the heart of the independence of news organisations to operate freely and jeopardises the safety of our journalists who may be seen as evidence gathers for law enforcement.”
The NUJ said its appeal raised ‘fundamental issues about the ability of the press to report matters of public interest impartially and without fear of intimidation”, and will refer to Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
NUJ member Jason Parkinson said: ‘The production order against me could have grave professional consequences and there is a danger it will have a serious impact on my ability to carry out my job in the future.
‘I want to protect the integrity and impartiality of journalists on the frontline – journalists should not be forced to be evidence gatherers for the police. We are reporting in the public interest and there should be a clear distinction between police surveillance and the press.”
John Domokos, video producer for Guardian.co.uk, added: “Jason has been a contributor of public order and unrest footage to The Guardian for many years. We are very concerned about this production order as we believe it will not only seriously jeopardise his safety and ability to cover future events of this nature, but also affect the safety and impartiality of all video journalists.”
NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said journalists played a ‘critical public interest’in the Dale Farm evictions but that their ‘reward is to be hounded and criminalised by the state simply for doing their job as journalists”.
She added: ‘The appeal launched by the NUJ will have significant implications for the whole of our industry and we are challenging this decision because the union’s code of conduct compels the union – and our members – to defend a vital principle, the protection of journalistic sources and material.
‘Our members regularly face attack and intimidation whilst doing their jobs. The danger increases if footage gathered whilst reporting events is seized and used by the police. This is an attack on press freedom and turns photographers, videographers and journalists into potential targets. Journalists are not there to carry out investigatory work for the police.”