Excuse me, officer …
British Journal of Photography
Date: 7 May 2008

Momentum is growing as photographers fight back against increasing restrictions on shooting images in public places.

More than 190 MPs have now signed up to an Early Day Motion introduced in the House of Commons by Austin Mitchell, urging the ‘Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers to agree on a photography code for the information of officers on the ground, setting out the public’s right to photograph public places, thus allowing photographers to enjoy their hobby without officious interference or unjustified suspicion’.

The motion was introduced after the Metropolitan Police launched an advertising campaign calling for citizens to report any ‘odd-looking’ person taking pictures – to the disgust of both amateur and professional photographers, who say they are increasingly demonised.

Press campaign
Press photographers, in particular, say they are being prevented from carrying out their work by overly-officious police and security personnel, pointing to a number of recent cases which have led to sometime violent confrontation.

To address the issue, the British Press Photographers’ Association is joining forces with the National Union of Journalists and the National Association of Press Agencies to try to resolve the issue with the police. Guidelines already exist, but say the organisations, rank-and-file officers seem to be unaware of their content, or choose to deliberately ignore them.

While the campaign is expected to gather strength, photographers are now waiting on the results of an upcoming meeting between the police and representative associations. This was due to happen last week, but the Met postponed and has yet to reschedule.

A group of freelance photographers, aided by the BPPA, has been meeting with the police regularly to address such issues. Now, to show a united front in the media freedom campaign, the BPPA is starting a new group alongside the NUJ and the NAPA. ‘This group, which has yet to be named, will carry on with these meetings with the police,’ says Jeff Moore of the BPPA. He hopes that the unified front will force the police to brief their officers on guidelines agreed in 2006. ‘We’ve tried to push the police to let us give talks to street officers about these guidelines, but we were never allowed to do it,’ Moore says. ‘It’s been promised, but it never happened.’

Last month, Moore asked individual photographers to make formal complaints each time they are assaulted by the police. However, no proper official complaint has been filed with the police yet, he tells BJP this week. ‘We will wait for the outcome before doing so.’

Funny side
Meanwhile, several spoofs of the Met’s ad campaign have appeared, including one that calls on photographers to report any ‘odd-looking’ police officers. Backed by the BPPA, EPUK and the NUJ, it reads: ‘Thousands of coppers stop photographers every day. What if one of them seems odd? Police twists the laws to help prevent protest, stopping people and threatening arrest under vague, all-encompassing terrorism laws. If you see a copper behaving oppressively we need to know. Let experienced journalists decide what action to take.’

Other photographers have submitted their own versions of the ad on the photo-sharing site Flickr. To view them, visit  http://www.flickr.com/groups/met_poster .