Title: Solo protest by NUJ chief
Feature: news
Date: 2 April 2008

The National Union of Journalists held a one-man protest in an effort to highlight concerns over police harrassment. Olivier Laurent reports


Jeremy Dear, the National Union of Journalists’ general secretary, stood outside the New Scotland Yard headquarters of the Metropolitan Police on 28 March for one hour in protest at worsening relations with press photographers. The one-man demonstration calling on police to ‘respect media freedom’, was attended by a dozen photographers there to cover the event. It was designed to show police forces the difference between a protester and photographers.

Dear also planned to hand in a letter to Ian Blair, the Met commissioner, however, the police refused to accept it and asked for it to be posted instead.

In May last year, journalist unions and the Association of Chief Police Officers agreed on guidelines to help improve relations between the police and press photographers. The decision to adopt these guidelines was designed to improve on worsening relations, notably during the London bombings of July 2005, when press photographers complained of ‘gratuitous obstruction’ (BJP, 30 May 2007).

However, recent incidents have raised questions as to whether the guidelines are being followed by police forces. ‘What’s really frustrating is that they are already in place which should deal with the problems we experience,’ says Dear. ‘We’re not even campaigning for a change to the rules. All we want is for the policy that currently exists to be properly enforced.’

Last month, the Met settled out of court with freelance photographer Marc Vallee, who was hospitalised after covering the unlawful ‘Sack Parliament’ protest in London on 09 October 2006. In March, Lawrence Looi, a photographer from the West Midlands-based photographic agency, News Team, was asked by two police officers to delete photographs he had taken of a protest. Looi agreed to delete the images under duress, but has filled a complaint against the officers (BJP, 05 March).

The Met has also launched a new anti-terrorism campaign asking the public to report any ‘odd’ seeming photographer. While the Met police ‘reassures photojournalists they are not going to act on impulse,’ adding ‘it will analyse all evidence before action is taken – if action is taken at all’, photographers remain worried that they will be the targets of increased checks while on the job.

In its letter to the Met, the Union says: ‘The guidelines recognise this important relationship, but it seems that in the majority of cases individual officers are not aware of the existence of the guidelines and NUJ members have reported numerous cases where they are not being followed. Many of these reports are made by photographers, who cite examples of police officers obstructing them in their work, confiscating their equipment, forcing them to delete images or of physically removing photographers when they are lawfully exercising their duties.’

The Union asks that police officers be given copies of the guidelines at briefings that take place in advance of major public events. For more information, visit www.nuj.org.uk.