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Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

Riot footage demands put journalists at risk


DEMANDS by police for media organisations to hand over footage obtained during the recent riots could lead to journalists’ lives being put at risk, says the Chartered Institute of Journalists.

Earlier this week it was reported that numerous newspapers and broadcasters – including The Guardian, The Times, BBC, Sky News and ITN – had been pressured by the Metropolitan Police into handing over pictures and video footage of the disturbances.

The danger is that rioters will see the media as collaborating with the state, and so they will become targets themselves, the CIoJ says.

Amanda Brodie, chairman of the Institute’s Professional Practices Board, said: “We urge all journalists to refuse to hand over their material unless ordered to do so by the courts. This is the proper procedure to which the police should adhere.

“Police are fully aware that they have no right to demand the handing over of such material on the spot, and that they must obtain a court order to do so. But there is evidence that they are putting pressure on journalists to do this.”

She added: “We also urge the courts to think twice before making blanket orders for material to be released. The police should have to demonstrate that there is a genuine need for this information, which can often be obtained from CCTV footage or even from media broadcasts already in the public domain.

“Applications for a production order should be limited to what is necessary and proportionate,” she said. “Police should not be requesting access to large quantities of footage from many media organisations, as this is tantamount to a fishing expedition.”

The CIoJ warns that such demands not only put lives at risk but may lead to democratic reporting being stifled due to safety fears.

This is already a reality in Northern Ireland, where newsgroups say that in recent weeks one photo-journalist was injured by a bullet and a cameraman provided evidence in court that a bullet passed through his trousers. He believed the media were being deliberately targeted whilst covering civil disturbances.