A journalist at all times upholds and defends the principle of media freedom, the right of freedom of expression and the right of the public to be informed.
The February meeting of the London Photographers’ Branch agreed to create the position of Legal Rep. It was agreed that the person elected to this position would support Branch members who have had a ‘negative encounter’ with the police and to coordinate the Branch’s relationship with the police.
I’m proud that Branch members have elected me to this position. The Legal Rep’s job is to support members to uphold and defend press freedom, in hindsight maybe the Branch should of named the position ‘Press Freedom Rep’.
Just to be clear the Legal Rep does not give legal advice, that is the job of the NUJ Legal Officer Roy Mincoff and the specialist lawyers that the union uses. It is the job of the Legal Rep to get you into a meeting with the most appropriate national officer or lawyer to help you.
So what kind of situations does the Legal Rep support members with?
A Branch member was stopped & searched three times in 45 minutes by police whilst covering a protest in London; branch members were forcibly removed and stopped by police from covering an EDL protest in Bradford; a branch member was forced to delete pictures under the threat of arrest in east London; branch members have been violently assaulted by police officers when working and a branch member has been threatened with a warrant by police to seize pictures of a political protest.
These are some of the real and current situations that Branch members have had to face when working, a barometer of the current political situation in the context of press and media freedom today.
In the majority of cases I have been one of the first people in the branch that members have contacted when things go wrong with the police. One of the first things is to listen to find out what the member needs. To give the member an idea of some of the options that are available to them. This could be highlighting the issue in the media, making a complaint to the police or IPCC or take legal action – sometimes all three!
Practically, this involves time, emails, phone calls and meetings to get the Branch member the best support the union can give them.
Currently the Branch does not have any formal contact with the Metropolitan Police. The Branch has successfully gained the agreement of NUJ Freelance Officer John Toner to report to the Branch on the meetings he attends, along with other organisations that represent photographers, with the police.
Meetings with the police are problematic at best, sharing a cup of tea with senior officers is seen by many as no more then a public relations exercise on behalf the police. The lack of any real concrete and lasting change in the behaviour of frontline officers gives weight to this view.
A trade union of photographers and journalists – a freedom of expression organisation – has to be cautious about such contact with a section of the state. Especially when it’s our members job to report on the actions of the police to the wider public. Transparency is the key and full and open records of any such meetings is vital for a democratic member lead organisation like ours.