A little while back I rabbited on a bit about incidents of alleged harassment of photographers by the cops, private security types, and even paranoid joe public.
My take on a lot of these incidents is that many of them may likely have escalated because of the attitude of the photographers themselves. Now that was purely speculation on my part of course, but based on a) having witnessed how some folk can react to such questioning, and b) my own experiences.
However, there’s definitely a more sinister aspect to all of this and, make no mistake about it, I come down firmly on the side of supporting the principle of photographers’ freedom to capture images in public places. Especially when it comes to “news gathering” type activities. Particularly those where the police are involved.
Protests and demonstrations and the like for example.
Vested interest here of course. Because photographically documenting such events tends to be my speciality. Why it has become my speciality is another matter entirely. The fact that I may be somewhat sympathetic to the protesters, or what the demonstration’s about, is totally irrelevant.
That may be why I came to adopt it as a speciality in the first place, but it doesn’t alter the fact that when I have my “photojourno hat” on my presence at such events is not to take part per se but to document what’s happening.
And, all too frequently, what’s happening is nasty doings by the police.
Based on stuff I’ve witnessed myself, I’ve long held the belief that so many protests and suchlike get a bit out of hand largely through provocations on the part of said police.
Case in point was last year’s Climate Camp at Blackheath in London, with one particular event springing instantly to mind… the march from the Camp on Blackheath Common into London (Canary Wharf to be precise) and subsequent demo outside Barclays Bank there. Noisy, yes. Seemingly a bit haphazard, yes. A bit of graffiti outside the Bank, yes.
But serious incidents? Real damage? Acts of violence? None! Not even a hint.
And the entire event was remarkable by the almost total absence (visibly at least) of the police. Which, naturally, I reported on at the time (well, shortly after actually, once I’d returned back home and marshalled my thoughts into some sort of order).
Moral of the story? No police… no nasty incidents, alleged “rioting” or whatever.
Undoubtedly this low-profile policing (almost to the point of non-existent policing) was the cops’ response to the huge amount of flak they’d received over the policing of the previous year’s Climate Camp, at Kingsnorth in Kent. On which, of course, I’d also reported.
But little of that would have gained so much attention from the mainstream media (the police tactics I’d witnessed at Kingsnorth not being particularly uncommon, although the mainstream media rarely report on them) had it not been for the violent incidents that occurred at the later G20 protests in London at the beginning of April ’09.
And here we come to the whole crux of the matter.
For those incidents, the ones at the G20 protests, would likely never have come to light had it not been for images (principally video as it happens) captured on camera. Incidents of undoubted police brutality… unwarranted and unprovoked.
Interestingly, it wasn’t mainstream media that had documented these incidents, but ordinary onlookers, “citizen journalists”, and alternative media. (Read what you will into that!)
That the mainstream media (led by The Guardian as I recollect) decided to jump on the bandwagon only after having received a video clip sent to them by a member of joe public is somewhat revealing.
This is why (or at least, one of the main reasons why) it is so important that the freedom of photographers to go about their business (using that word in a figurative sense, for I don’t just mean professional photographers, accredited photojournalists and the like; but anyone wielding a camera) in public places should be rigorously defended.
A freedom that many “in the trade” so to speak were fearful of losing following the introduction of that ambiguously worded (deliberately, one wonders?) Section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008. A piece of legislation that theoretically could be used to prevent anyone from photographing the police in any situation whatsoever.
A large part of living in an allegedly “free and democratic” society is the concept of freedom of information. The right of the public to be informed, and to be kept informed, of events happening around them.
That role, of informing, is largely served (or should be) by the media. Be that mainstream, alternative, or whatever. But not exclusively by the media. It can also and quite rightly be served by ordinary joe bloggs… documenting, recording, and communicating.
Any attempt (whether through legislation, police abuse of power, or whatever) to suppress or censor this flow of information, this documenting of events, should be challenged and opposed wherever possible.
And those seeking to implement such suppression or censorship should be called to account, visibly, publicly, and with consequences.
That’s my opinion anyway.
So it was with some glee that I read this latest bit of news on not entirely unrelated matters in the Press Gazette…
Police pay damages and apologise to photojournalists
The Metropolitan Police has apologised and paid damages to two photojournalists after its officers prevented them from covering a protest outside the Greek Embassy.
Marc Vallée and Jason Parkinson were prevented from capture images [sic] of the protest in December 2008 by officers from the Met’s diplomatic protection group.
The London protests were a reaction to an incident in Greece where a young boy had been killed by the Greek police force.
Vallée had his camera pulled away from his face and the lens of Parkinson’s video camera was covered by officers.
The two men were then told by officers they were not permitted to film them.
The Metropolitan Police last week admitted the pair were unlawfully prevented from reporting by its officers and accepted liability for breaching both journalists’ rights to freedom of expression – as detailed in Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
Each man was paid legal costs by the Met and damages of £3,500… Read more
Quite right too. All that remains is for me to try to get myself stopped from photographing police at the next event I attend. Cos a few grand would come in mighty handy!
[Article also posted at “TawNews”]
[Edited 28-06-2010 23:17hrs to add the following: Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that all protests and demonstrations develop peacefully absent a police presence. That’s a nonsense, for clearly some don’t. But all too often the presence of police employing a heavy-handed approach exacerbates rather than pacifies potentially explosive situations.]