Police treatment of journalists at the G20 protests in London demonstrates a ‘huge misunderstanding of the media and its rights’, the general secretary of the National Union of Journalists said today.
At a select committee meeting in parliament to discuss policing at the demonstrations, Jeremy Dear said a dossier detailing the complaints of 13 NUJ members about the behaviour of the police during the G20 demonstration would be presented to the Independent Police Complaints Commission this week.
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He said complaints of physical assault were included in the report.
Dear said that at major events such as the G20 demonstrations, “the system in place falls down”.
“Too few frontline officers recognise, or are prepared to recognise, the press card,” he told the committee.
He said it was in the common interest of the police and the media to work together when covering events such as the G20 demonstrations.
Guidelines should be “integral” to all police training, and individuals who wilfully breach the guidelines should be held accountable, he said.
Dear added that a lack of consistency and a misuse of power by a minority of officers when handling the media “mean people are being caught up in incidents that have no validity”.
When asked by Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester Bob Russell if relations between the press and police had deteriorated, Dear said: “There have always been issues, but the situation has got worse.”
He denied suggestions that the presence of photographers encourages demonstrators to be violent.
In response to Conservative MP for Hertsmere James Clappison’s proposal that the press could choose to record only the peaceful protests, he said journalists had a duty to provide a story that is balanced and understanding.
“Any restriction must be necessary and proportionate,” Dear said. “In the past the restrictions have not been necessary or proportionate.”
Section 14 of the Public Order Act is intended to disperse potentially disruptive or violent gatherings. But Dear said police were captured on video using it to order photographers from an area, telling the journalists: “You can either go or get arrested.”
“Photographers who regularly cover these sorts of events understand they’ll be caught up in the commotion,” Dear told the committee.
“But in this instance, they were showing their press cards and just asking questions.”
Dear said the NUJ had received an apology from the Metropolitan Police.
“The police clearly accept this was a misuse of Section 14,” he added. “There are some police officers who are extremely good, others who are not at all.”
He added: “It’s all about consistency.”
Dear said more thorough briefing was necessary before major events.
He said that before the G20 demonstrations the police had consulted the mainstream media but not other groups, thereby leaving out most other journalists, including freelances.