Photographers debate rights with police – on a blog

Photojournalist Marc Vallée has a story about Sussex police seizing a protester’s footage at an anti-facist protest (photographs here).

On his blog, Vallée reports:

The film cassette was seized by police on the street under Section 19 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 on Monday 30 August 2010 Brighton, England.

The police spokesman says that the officer took the film because:

The officer reasonably believed the tape contained evidence of a protester being assaulted by someone taking part in the march. It has been seized temporarily to ensure that evidence cannot be inadvertently lost or altered and will be returned, intact, to the owner as soon as possible.

But the incident wasn’t reported in the mainstream media. The Sussex Police head of media relations, Nick Cloke, who answers the photographers’ questions on Vallée’s blog, says that the Guardian was initially interested:

It’s also worth mentioning that after discussion with The Guardian they agreed that while the issues around Sections 19 and 23 merit debate – indeed, I have significant personal and professional interest in this myself – basing a story around this incident would not have been proportionate, hence they decided not to run it.

But the person whose footage it was, Glenn Williams, disputes that he was near the suspected GBH incident the police media officer describes.

Rights and wrongs of the issue aside, it’s fascinating to see the media officer jump into the debate, at such length.

Cloke offers this, for example, in reply to Williams:

Before explaining what I know about the alleged assaults and how I collated this information, it concerns me that you were given unlawful direction to stop filming in your initial encounter with the officer. This should not have happened and I will be following it up with the officer and their supervisor. The officer has been identified from the collar number in the pictures, but as I haven’t yet had a chance to address this, it seems unfair to name him now, particularly as naming will not impact on either your or my comments.

And gives these examples of where the police got it wrong on previous occasions (Cloke gives further detail in a subsequent comment):

Indeed, since I took up my post in November 2009, there’ve been two times when material was inappropriately temporarily seized from media by Sussex officers. In both cases, unreserved apologies were given, the officers involved were given management advice and since then we’ve started a training programme to make everyone more aware of the rights people have to record in public places.

In the past, I’ve put in quite a few calls to the police over photography incidents like these, and never received a response like this.

As we scrutinise the relationship between police, police media officers and journalists (an issue that is addressed in the New York Times’ phone hacking report), online contributions like these should be welcomed, and where necessary, their content challenged.

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One Response to Photographers debate rights with police – on a blog

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