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news 28 May 2008

NUJ takes protest to Home Office


© Marc Vallée/marcvallee.co.uk

Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, has written to the Home Secretary to protest against police surveillance of journalists and photographers.

Dear's letter, sent to Jacqui Smith on 22 May, states that journalists and photographers are being monitored and recorded by the Metropolitan Police's Forward Intelligence Team (FIT), adding that this surveillance amounts to virtual harassment and is a serious threat to the journalists' right to carry out their work.

'As you will be aware,' he writes, 'the FIT team have a responsibility to provide intelligence to police units in respect of individuals who may be involved in public order issues. "Targets" whose likenesses are retained by the police are given four-figure Photographic Reference Numbers and held on a database.

'Recently, the FIT team has started surveillance of press card-carrying journalists who cover and report on protests of any kind. For example, at a recent lobby against the SOCPA (Serious Organised Crime and Police Act) restrictions on protests on 01 March, all members of the press present were catalogued by the FIT team. Through Data Protection Act requests we have learned that details of bona fide journalists are held on this database with photographic reference numbers.'

Later in the same letter he adds: 'Despite repeated requests there has been no legitimate reason given why police photographers should be photographically cataloguing journalists going about their lawful business.' He then asks Smith to provide more information about the FIT and the guidance it is given.

Dear has written to the Home Secretary because ongoing concerns he has raised directly with the police have not been resolved, he told BJP. 'Despite the guidelines drawn up,' he said, 'photographers continue to face intimidation.'

He added: 'The government must stamp out the routine and deliberate targeting of photographers and other journalists by the Forward Intelligence Team. Such actions undermine media freedom and can serve to intimidate photographers trying to carry out their lawful work. These abuses are the latest in an increasingly long list of infringements of media freedom at the hands of the Metropolitan Police. The rights of photographers to work free from threat, harassment and intimidation must be upheld.'

Photojournalist and NUJ member Marc Vallee, who was hospitalised after covering the unlawful 'Sack Parliament' protest in London on 09 October 2006, added: 'Press freedom is a central tenet of our democracy and it is extremely unpleasant to have Metropolitan Police FIT officers take notes, film and photograph you when working. It begs the questions what legal, moral and political power such repressive actions are based on. The Home Secretary needs to swiftly confirm that the police have no legal power to prevent or restrict working photographers in this way.'

The Metropolitan Police confirmed that it has 'used the tactic of Forward Intelligence Teams in their current format for at least 10 years, including covert photographers'.

In a statement to BJP, commander Bob Broadhurst, in charge of Public Order policing at the Metropolitan Police said: 'I have personally met with various representatives from bodies who represent the interests of photographers and have sought to protect their rights to do their job through educating colleagues within the Met. Before every operation all our staff are briefed as to the rights and role of the media and wherever operationally possible to facilitate them.

'Metropolitan Police FIT officers do not target legitimate photographers. FIT officers are deployed in an intelligence and evidence gathering capacity at public order events. This may include interaction with photographers, who on the production of a valid form of accreditation will be able to continue with their work.'

Above: A civilian police photographer films and photographs working journalists outside City Hall on O2 May in London (c) Marc Vallee www.marcvallee.co.uk .

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