ABOUT 30 photographers packed into a room at
London's Conway Hall on Thursday 26 April for a briefing on working
in "Public Order situations" organised by London Freelance
Branch and largely mobilised through the
National Executive member Kevin Cooper came to give advice from his
experience as a photographer on the streets of Belfast. He manfully
avoided the obvious subtext - "so you think you've got problems?"
Patrick Andrews, head of the criminal law department at NUJ solicitors
Thompsons, gave a comprehensive briefing on the legalities and was
questioned thoroughly on the powers police can use to obstruct reporting.
"The important thing to do when covering a demonstration,"
Cooper said, "is to work safely, avoid being arrested or assaulted, and
get yourself and your film out so you can file your pictures."
Indeed, "Arguing legal points with police officers is more likely
to get you arrested," he said. "Better to deflect the officers'
attention and continue working somewhere else in the demonstration."
At the request of NUJ members, Freelance Organiser John Toner had
contacted New Scotland Yard asking for an assurance that they would
not pen photographers in. The answer was that they "had no
plans to do so" but that what actually happens during a demo
must be "an operational matter" - Yard-speak for "not
At the briefing and afterwards photographers raised the very
specific question of what they should do if swept up into "the
kettle" - which the Freelance is told is police
slang for an area where protesters are hemmed in (until they come
to the boil, perhaps?). So the Freelance called the Yard
"At the briefings [on 26 April] we gave very specific information
to Serial Inspectors that they should provide every assistance to members
of the press," a senior Met source said. "Serial Inspectors"
each command one van-load of police, so we're told that the Branch request
that briefings go beyond senior officers - who are likely already more
aware of the issues than others - is being honoured.
The source denied knowledge of the term "kettle" but said:
"If journalists get captured inside a cordon they should make
themselves known to an officer and show their press card and they
will be facilitated - whatever elements of the press they might
represent." The "elements" comment appears to acknowledge
that freedom of the Press is not just for the corporate Press.
Several speakers said that the best thing to do if you find yourself
inside a cordon is to approach the most senior police person you can
find and try to have a discussion - not an argument. Andrews suggests the
approach "I'm a professional doing my job, you're a professional
doing your job - can you let me through to do mine?" The
Freelance suggests this is not incompatible with also
interacting with protesters on the basis that "I'm doing what I
believe in, you're doing what you believe in..."
Journalists should obviously act at all times to demonstrate their
independence - not hanging out exclusively with protesters or police
for example. The latter is particularly likely to get you mistaken
for a police photographer or observer.
It's not very clear what powers authorise police action like the
"kettle" - but, to repeat, arguing the toss is unlikely
to help. Retreating, making a wide "D" manoeuvre and trying
another police officer is more useful. The police can always invoke an
un-specific common-law power to "maintain the Queen's Peace,"
after all. But their power to search you on the spot (under the Criminal Justice
Act 1994) only covers looking for weapons - "they can flip through your
address book to see whether a razor-blade falls out," Andrews said,
"but they shouldn't read it."
Where law and lawyers really enter the picture is in the event that you
do get nicked or assaulted. All NUJ freelance photographers should
have the emergency legal contact number from the printed newsletter.
If you do get arrested, Andrews said, insist on a receipt for everything
taken from you. And politely decline to answer questions until a
solicitor arrives. They'll be there as soon as they can.
And remember that NUJ policy is that you should never, ever hand
over film or notes for the police to use as evidence - their job is
to collect it for themselves, and ours is to report. Contact the
Freelance or Journalist editors if you
want to make film, for example, legally disappear
- before any warrant is given against you.
- The Freelance thanks Branch Secretary Molly Cooper for
her work on organising the event.