Summary of the discussions held on filming or photography at protests in Conway Hall, London.
Here is the feedback from the Legal Observer Group that discussed the role and possibility of video activism within Legal Observing and the protest movement. Please do not hesitate to give me any feedback on this as the debate is in no way closed. With apologies for the delay.
Please note that you have not been added to the general Legal Observer Group meeting mailings. This group will continue to meet until around June in order to discuss the issues necessary to drafting a formal proposal to set up a permanent funded legal observer group for England and Wales. This proposal will then be put to a wider meeting sometime in June or July at which any final decision as to whether to film as part of legal observing will be taken. If it is taken then, in addition to the Legal Observer Project, it is also hoped that a Video Activism parallel project will also be set up. I will let you know when this meeting will take place nearer the time. However, you will not receive any further details of the other issues. If you wish to do so, then please drop me a line.
Summary of the discussions held on filming or photography at protests
Utility of filming/photography
The utility of filming and photography in the context of legal observing was not in dispute. To recap on what was said in the discussion piece and reiterated at the meeting:
Filming, and to a lesser extent photography, provides one of the best sources of evidence to be used in the defence of protesters charged with criminal offences. More importantly, perhaps, film is also one of the best sources of evidence for use in complaints or litigation brought by protesters, where the burden of proof is then on the protesters. The presence of cameras therefore also has a deterrent effect on the Police. Equally important, exposure of the abusive use of power or of the law through the media, the Internet or more selective channels of communication can be effective in discrediting the Police and countering some of the anti-protest propaganda.
To set up a group with the aim of acquiring footage from protests to assist in the defence of protesters, in civil claims against the police or similar actions and in exposing the abusive use of power and the law in the repression of protest and protesters through the media, mainstream or otherwise.
The group could both act as a liason between and central contact point for the legal observer group and those with footage of protests, as well as trying to obtain footage of its own. Given the risks of the project, it would operate independently of the legal observer group but would work closely with it.
Problems & Suggested Solutions
The police have various powers to stop, search and confiscate items, both under the existing Stop & Search Laws and under the proposed Terrorism Bill. The experience of many journalists however is that they will arrest people and confiscate equipment or film regardless of their actual powers. The perceived intention is to prevent journalists meeting their copy deadlines and to discourage and prevent potentially unfriendly coverage. This poses the added problem for those filming in order to assist with Legal Observing that any incriminating footage seized could then be used by the police.
There are a number of ways in which camera operators can minimise the risks of police harassment or the consequences of it:
1. Using a look-out, such as a legal observer, both to look out for incidents to film and to look out for possible trouble from the police. Such an individual could also act as an independent observer in case of any harassment. An alternative is for camera operators to cover each other. One camera operator goes in close whilst another one stands further back away from the police in order to gather any evidence of any harassment of the first operator by the police. Both techniques can be effective but are of limited value since they rely entirely on their deterrent potential. Although they also enable subsequent legal actions to be brought for wrongful arrest, criminal damage and trespass to goods this does little to address the problem outlined above.
2. Concentrating on filming the police rather than protesters. Legal Observers, and therefore those that film in that capacity, effectively act as evidence gatherers for protesters. Their attention is consequently focussed on the Police. However, it would be naïve to think that they would therefore be able to avoid catching action that incriminates protesters altogether. In addition, the context of any arrest or illegal action by the police is important material evidence for use in civil claims or criminal defence. Consequently, although legal observers can, to a limited extent, provide the required contextual evidence, for video evidence to be effective in Court it ideally needs to record the actions of protesters as well.
3. Using runners or bikers to get film away or, better still, micro-waving film immediately off-site. With the use of digital cameras & mobile phones, micro-waving isn¹t particularly technologically challenging though it is somewhat expensive. The advent of GSM2 phones, capable of sending digital data as micro-waves over a number of Œlines¹ will significantly bring down the cost and ease with which this can be done. For getting film away from the Police this is by far the best technique though even micro-waving still carries some potential risk of interception. Data encryption using strong encryption would make the process secure but it may not be legally possible to use it for much longer. Nevertheless, since the primary aim of the Police is not so much to use the footage as to prevent others using it the actual risk of micro-waving may be incredibly small.
4. Filming covertly or from a sufficiently inaccessible vantage point overcomes some of the problems of police harassment but is subject to problems of its own. Filming from an inaccessible vantage point can only be effective in certain rare circumstances: where the protest is more or less static, where a vantage point gives good views of the action, where the camera operator has a sufficiently powerful zoom and where the footage can be got away safely. The main disadvantage with covert filming is that it loses its deterrent effect. In addition, it is not something to be undertaken without the complete trust of the protesters.
It may be that these techniques used in combination according to the circumstances provides the best response to police harassment.
Use of Incriminating Material in Court
Whether it be as a result of disclosure in a Court case or as a result of a Court Order it may be difficult to prevent incriminating footage falling into the hands of the Crown Prosecution Service.
However, there currently exists a mechanism for putting material at risk out of the jurisdiction of the UK Courts and it is suggested that any problematic footage be dealt with in that way:
All rights to the footage should be assigned to the International Federation of Journalists in Brussels and sent there.
Am I journalist or an activist? I don’t know now. I thought I was being active on an issue. Silly me! I’m just trying to do my very moral best.
My photography grew from my concern and activism, trying to be more effective in furthering our case. The first twenty years was with free festivals and travellers. And so rearly did I have a problem in my own tribe. They , all of them, recognised that we were trying to help. Good god, that’s is why we won the beanfield trials and onwards. And managed to get some! public symaphy for OUR case. You see, I’m one of us. 🙂
You know from the content of these pages, that I know all about the issues involved, but e-mail cirulation with this content, is beginning to poison the atmosphere. I and those like me, don’t deserve it.
Nothing any of you can do about it of course, just wanted folks to know that there is an issue here! Heck, why is this starting to be an increased problem now? Even after the judge threw out the police application from j18, because the police had not made adequate photographic efforts themselves!!
That ruling should have made all photo-journalists, on this side of the fence, safer.
What I’m really about here, is a plea.
I come from a hippy/ traveller/ free festival background. Because I cared greatly about my community, with others, helped to form outfits that provided welfare, help and advice to those who weren’t getting any! This is the founding of the Festival Welfare Services and the festivals branch of ‘Release’. We felt real progress for some years before the forces of darkness started to gather. Public Order Act etc….. It started splitting families, harassment and hitting us with sticks.
Release, FWS and Festival Aid soon found the balance of the work we did, shifted by the distress caused by the police and the rather partial application of the law. Next to my work with the charities, I have been taking photographs since the late 1970’s. I felt I could be of use, in trying to gather evidence of the abuses that we said were occurring, but at that time, were unable to demonstrate and were not believed.
I say, that by making the police aware there were other eyes about, other than their own, then it frequently moderated their actions. Police and state treated us as if we were just a bunch of crusties! and could therefore behave to us as they pleased. However, many of us stared to bring civil action in the court, and with evidence, won many cases. Police operations against us were much moderated by this deterrent. They became more careful in their dealings. Perhaps saved a few broken heads.
I see many aspects of entertainment and protest today, with rootes in the time I have just mentioned. To me, as a geezer in his late-forties, it all goes round again. For photography though, it has been different.
My community encouraged me in what I was doing then. There are a few who clearly do not now. Use of pictures in the poll-tax riot were perhaps the turning point. I acknowledge the risks and am up to pace with the issues.
But if, in future, guy’s like me are prevented by activists, (I’m used to police objection), then, with the advent of miniature ‘undercover’ cameras.
The only cameras present at a scene will be the oppositions!
Surely we can’t mean that?
I was first hit with a stick by a policeman in Windsor Great Park, 1974, when they broke up our festival. Ten years latter, another policeman hit me with his stick in the Beanfield near Stonehenge. With the occasions in between, this is what I’m use to, and expect.
HOWEVER. In recent times, while trying to photograph people getting trampled by a police charge in Trafalgar Sq ‘Reclaim the Future’, I ended up with a broken ankle resulting from a lump of concrete , thrown be a drunken protester next to me. To be fair, he was aiming at the police.
But drink has played a part in two other aggravations towards me. I lost most of my teeth at the N30 bash, Nov ’99 outside Euston. People falling on top of each other (and me) during one of the charges. A couple of very young “warrior” types, found my distress highly amusing, then kicked me! Community, I thought, bleeding and lying there on the pavement!
With such dangers, why do I/we bother.
I am concerned for community and issues. I learnt my art / craft to help more fully to express OUR case. From this side of the fence.
It is why I am particularly cross with some of the content of e-mail circulating earlier in the year saying
CAMERAS AND PRESS: This is an activist gathering not a press event, so if you are coming as a journalist then you are not welcome. Also please respect the wishes of some people not to be photographed by leaving your camera at home.
+ + + + +
30 years photographing at festivals and look were its got to ……
Well, I’m all confused now.
Was it all a waste of time?
Am I journalist or an activist?
I don’t know now.
I thought I was being active on an issue.
Difficulty in taking photographs. http://tash.gn.apc.org/photo_difficult.htm
Photo-Journalist ‘Hassle’ list http://tash.gn.apc.org/journo_hassle.htm
Assorted Legal Hassle http://tash.gn.apc.org/legal_assortment.htm
Misc Legal adventures
Referring to the media, Ch Supt Davies of the Mets Public Order Branch says:
“Like all forms of modern protest, experience has shown environmentalist to be highly organised and media friendly. It is almost standard now that the media will give protesters cameras, both video and still, to record a protester’s eye view. This would almost certainly result in a significant propaganda victory for the protesters as they are selective about what they release”.
(Police Review 21st March 97)
Well, I never! Would you say the positioning of the screens at the eviction of the road-protest site at Birmingham was anything other than ‘selective’?
Police are increasingly using various legal `devices’ and violence, to remove photographers from the scene of actions were the police feel that they may be portrayed in a less flattering light! Arrest on a spurious ‘holding’ charge, later to be released without charge, having missed deadline is a favorite one:
Aggro list …….
Alan Lodge see the rest of my web-site for details: from Stonehenge, the Battle of the Beanfield resulting in civil case, Reclaim the streets, Operation Nomad and yet another civil case., and bloody onwards …!
Ben Gibson of the Observer: Arrested for obstruction at the `Battle of the Beanfield’ near Stonehenge. Charges later dropped.
David Hoffman freelancer: Frequently arrested (and assaulted) by the Metropolitan Police. Welling east London, Poll tax riots, Dockers/Reclaim the Streets etc), Has been awarded damages against them.
John Warburton freelance on job for Daily Telegraph, working with New Age Travellers in the SW England. Arrested while covering traveller site evictions.
Nick Cobbing freelancer: Arrested and removed from scene while trying to cover the eviction of environmental protesters at proposed site of Manchester Airport. Again at an Animal rights demo, Oxford
John Fraser Williams HTV producer: sustained two broken ribs after being truncheoned while reporting on the Manchester Airport
Roddy Mansfield of `Undercurrents’ recently arrested for the sixth time while recording events at a street party by the group `Reclaim the Streets’ in Bristol. Again at an Animal rights demo, Oxford
Simon Chapman (photographer) Arrested after covering a protest against genetically modified crops at Totnes , Devon. Deadlines missed, later released without charge.
Ben Edwards (i-Contact Video) Arrested after covering a protest against genetically modified crops at Totnes , Devon. Tapes seized at time, deadlines missed, later released without charge.
Ursuala Wills Jones writer and photographer ? details.
Paul Smith photographer protest at proposed site of Manchester Airport. Charges latter dropped.
Campbell Thomas daily mail freelance. Bilderberg meeting, Scotland 1998. charges dropped.
Martin Palmer video journo from portsmouth. Hillgrove Farm, anti-vivsection protest. Tapes seized and returned 6 months later no explanation or charge.
Maggie Lambert mature student at Newport College, charged with conspiracy to trespass while photographing anti-motorway protest at Twyford Down.
John Harris and Neil Plumb photographers charged with trespass under Aviation Security Act after arrest at demonstration against veal export at Coventry Airport, Charges later dropped, compensation awarded.
Rob Todd photographer raided for photographs of hunt sabs, Police used improper warrant (ignoring police and criminal evidence procedure for journalist material). When challenged, they gave him a choice of giving them what they wanted, or having ALL his film and equipment seized.
David Sims freelance photographer: detained for 11 hours, being arrested for breach of the peace at Greenpeace demo against arrival of genetically modified soya beans into Liverpool Docks. Was arrested in spite of repeatedly showing his NUJ card. Police returned camera, but kept roll of film.
Terry Kane freelance photographer. Arrested covering animal rights demonstrations at Shamrock Farm near Brighton in January 2000. Arrested under section 14 of the Public Order Act. Police deliberatly ignored NUJ press card. Was held for 9 hours and released at midnight, thus missing his news deadlines. Case later dismissed after the police own video evidence discredited their version of events. Will now be starting civil action against Sussex Police.
Mike Taylor Sec of Bristol NUJ Branch Arrested at Heathrow Airport, at demonstration against the deportation of Iraqi Kurdish asylum seeker in August 2000.
Andrew Wiard & Jess Hurd freelance photographers & a TV camera Operator, all prevented from filming at Heathrow Airport by police. They were informed that they were on private property and that it was an offence to be there, unless travelling! Waird said, “treatment is unprecedented. Press photographers frequently take picture at Heathrow, without anyone’s permission”. TV operator carried on working and was promptly thrown in back of police van, though subsequently released after a period. Not charged, just inconvenienced!. They pointed out, press card is recognised by the met police, reply: “oh, but we’re Heathrow Police”. (who are or course, part of the met police. Hay ho….)
· Adrian Arbib freelance photographer. Had his camera taken away, and was assaulted by Kent Police. He went to photograph the recently ‘banned’ Horsemonden Romany horse fair. On photographing a roadblock at the huge police operation. Was told not to photograph as it was “against the law.” He continued, and was arrested. He did not resist, however they continued to assault him. He has complained.
· Zoe Broughton – video-journalist Following a tip-off, the freelance video reporter accompanied Greenpeace activists as they occupied a waste incineration plant in Sheffield. May 2001. The first day went as planned; Broughton’s footage of the occupation made the regional television news. Wanting to cover the action in its entirety, however, she returned the next day as the activists prepared to leave the plant following a court order demanding their removal. After being allowed to film them being arrested and put into police vans she too was suddenly arrested “despite making it very clear that I was a freelance reporter”. Broughton was held in custody while her house was turned upside down by police and her camera equipment seized. She had returned to police stations twice since her arrest in May as they continue to consider charges of “conspiracy to cause criminal damage”.
Well, good grief !!!
It seems OK then, for the police to go undercover as demonstrators etc and film activists in action covertly. They then get to use that material in prosecutions and intelligence with their ‘spin’, as they see fit with little restriction.
However, they appear to find it convenient to think that a photographer covering an action or demonstration where they may feel their work might be critical of police, might in fact be an undercover demonstrator! Police say the media is sometimes a cover for activist. To form this opinion is, of course, a useful ploy.
Press credentials are, not accidentally, but deliberately, being ignored by police. It suits their purposes you see. Without outside prying eyes looking into their activities, they can feel free to be that bit rougher with the citizens protesting on an issue, than they would be if ‘eyes’ of different persuasions were watching.
Precisely, of course, why investigative journalism is supposed to be allowed in a free society. Keeps everyone on their toes. For an example, watch the national news on TV when there is a story concerning, say a human rights demonstration in south-east Asia. Watch the reaction of the police to the presence of a camera while their buddies carry on behind them. The embarrassment is obvious, followed by the inevitable violent assault on the cameraman and the grab for the film! Many of us have seen exactly the same expression through the viewfinder, here
Rising numbers of reporters say the police have harassed or assaulted them.
Are they paying the price for activists posing as journalists?
Or is it an attack on press freedom?
Andrew Wasley reports
The Guardian Monday March 6, 2000
Covering the anti-World Trade Organisation rally at London’s Euston Station on November 30 last year was nothing out of the ordinary for Express journalist Danny Penman. He’d reported on Britain’s protest movement since the early 90s and seen everything from peaceful treetop occupations at the Newbury bypass to full-scale riots in the capital. The “N30 event” – as it was dubbed by the organisers – was to prove different, however. Just after 7pm the police moved in to clear the station concourse, resulting in considerable disorder. Penman found himself herded into a nearby park, where he claims he was viciously attacked by police in riot gear. “I suddenly found myself being repeatedly struck with batons. I made it clear that I was a journalist, and I couldn’t believe it when they continued hitting out at me. I was only rescued after the BBC’s Kate Adie intervened.” Penman suffered cuts and bruises and a broken arm, the bone so severely shattered it required a steel plate and a dozen bolts to hold it together.
The incident mirrors the experience of TV researcher Andrew Browning, who claims he was attacked and intimidated by police while photographing last summer’s anti-capitalist riot in the City of London. “I’d shot half a film of the barrage of missiles coming from the protesters and of the retaliatory baton charges by police, when I saw two riot officers swing towards me. Ducking around a wheelie bin, they struck me with their batons across the shoulders and grabbed my camera. I shouted that I was a journalist and asked what on earth they were doing.”
Browning says the police demanded all the films in his possession, threatening him with arrest for violent disorder if he didn’t comply – “totally ridiculous as I was simply taking pictures.”
On the same day, Nick Cobbing, a freelance photographer, says the police deliberately damaged his camera after seizing it during a baton charge. “I’d dropped it, but was told I’d have to make a statement to claim it back,” he says. “When I did recover it, the damage was criminal – shutter punctured, the hood and filter missing – far more than would result from it simply dropping to the floor.”
Penman is attempting to sue the Metropolitan police for assault with the backing of the National Union of Journalists, and Browning and Cobbing have lodged formal complaints with the police complaints authority, seeking to recover the considerable costs of repairing and replacing equipment. Another journalist arrested at the protest, freelance Charlotte Wilcox, is also considering legal action after being held overnight without charge and having her video camera and tape seized. All four are part of a growing list of reporters to fall foul of the law while covering political dissent.
Since environmental activists first resorted to direct action at the Twyford Down anti-bypass siege in 1992-93, protests have attracted media attention like never before. With this, however, there has been an alarming increase in the number of journalists reportedly assaulted, harassed and even arrested by the police at such events.
Those covering road protests, hunt sabotage and action against genetically modified crops claim to have been targeted most frequently. Some say they have been arrested as many as seven times, others that they have been beaten by police, their houses raided and equipment seized. All say their press card credentials have been systematically ignored, in spite of a police-operated PIN number identification scheme.
Some journalists argue that it represents a deliberate and organised attempt on the part of the police to intimidate campaign-sympathetic reporters and to “manage” the news. Others maintain that it is simply a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time – journalists covering illegal protests should expect to encounter problems with the law.
Most of the journalists harassed or arrested while covering protests have never been charged. Nick Cobbing has the dubious honour of being one of only two known reporters to have been convicted – he was found guilty of obstruction after reporting from the trees at the 1997 Manchester airport eviction – fuelling speculation that the primary motive of police is not to criminalise journalists outright but to prevent compromising material from being broadcast or published.
In July 1998, Ben Edwards, a freelance video journalist, was accused by police of being “the propaganda arm” of a group of environmental activists arrested after destroying a field of genetically modified crops in Devon. He was held in a police cell for more than 24 hours while police raided his house, seizing his computer, files and even documentaries taped from television, although he was never successfully prosecuted.
The NUJ says it was the case against Edwards that helped kick-start a campaign to push the issue on to the political agenda – a dossier outlining key incidents and calling for an official policy on the subject has been handed in to the Home Office. The organisation also claims to have identified a police officer who, they believe, has been responsible for intimidating journalists at political demonstrations.
Observer photographer Andrew Testa was stopped by the officer at two separate demonstrations, at a Reclaim The Streets event in Birmingham and a vivisection protest in Oxfordshire. “On both occasions he said he had seen me at other political events, implying that this was somehow illegal. He also pointed me out to a police cameraman to ensure they got a decent shot.”
The NUJ is cautious, however, about supporting everyone who claims to be a journalist and has suffered police harassment. “We will intervene where there is a clear case of a bona fide reporter being prevented from carrying out their job,” says spokesman Tim Gopsill. “But we can’t – and do not attempt to – get involved every time someone with a video camera is arrested.”
A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan police says: “Everyone who carries a video camera or uses the internet calls themselves a reporter these days, so we advise our officers to use their judgment in establishing whether an individual is legitimate or not. We are aware of the allegations of news managing, but can categorically say that this is not the case.”
Hugh Lawrence, who has been researching press freedom across Europe for a forthcoming book, is more sceptical: “Although there has been an increase in the number of cases of harassment, I don’t think it in any way amounts to an organised attempt to stifle reporting of the news.” He says many of those targeted place themselves in compromising positions by “taking part” in actions and producing articles that amount to little more than incitement to protest. “Most of those who’ve run into trouble with the law are young freelancers who are often sympathetic to the aims of the campaigners, not established journalists working for an established publication. The police perceive the two groups, perhaps rightly, as very different.”
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