Police production orders turn journalists into 'informers'

Immigration minister Damian Green has expressed ‘sympathy’for journalists who are assaulted in the course of their work, while his colleague defended the use of court orders forcing news organisations to hand over footage to police.

Green was asked in the House of Commons yesterday if any recent assessments had been of the number of physical assaults against journalists covering news stories.

He replied that information on physical assaults against journalists was not available from the crime statistics held by the Home Office.

‘Journalists have the right to do their job in a safe environment and, like all members of the public, are protected by the law,’he said. ‘If they are assaulted, the crime will be investigated and dealt with by the police.”

Green added: ‘As a former journalist and, indeed, a former member of the NUJ, I have every sympathy with journalists whose lives are put in danger.”

Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins said: ‘National Union of Journalists members are placed at risk when their material or sources are used by police forces through production orders.

‘Does the Minister accept that journalists are independent news gatherers, not evidence gatherers for law enforcement, and that forcing them to hand over their journalistic material or sources places them at risk of attack?”

Plaid Cymru’s Jonathan Edwards later asked under-secretary of State for the home department, James Brokenshire, what assessment had made of the level of applications for production orders by police forces, following a recent order for broadcasters to hand over footage of the Dale Farm riots.

Brokenshire said such orders were a ‘valuable tool’for police investigating serious crime and were issued ‘only after careful scrutiny by a circuit judge”, but said information on the number of production orders made by individual police forces were not centrally collated.

Edwards said: ‘The use of production orders by the police, such as in the case of Dale Farm, has the potential to increase risks for journalists as they are, in effect, seen as informers, as well as undermining journalistic independence.

‘The National Union of Journalists is worried that the use of such orders is becoming more common. Will the Minister meet me, other concerned MPs and the NUJ to discuss the issue?

Brokenshire replied: ‘I understand that the National Union of Journalists has mounted an appeal in the courts against the granting of a number of orders, so I hope the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is difficult for me to comment on the specifics.

‘Our understanding is that only a small minority of production orders are used to obtain journalistic material. The vast majority are made in relation to financial information.”

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