Tomorrow morning, Tuesday 13 December 2011, I will head to Chelmsford Crown Court to oppose a production order application by Essex Police to seize all my footage from the Dale Farm eviction.
The production order, calling for all footage shot on 19 and 20 October, is also being served upon other news outlets.
I am resisting the order with the full support on the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and legal support from Bindmans Solicitors. The handing over of material, either published or unpublished goes against the NUJ Code of Conduct.
I strongly believe a journalist should protect her/his confidential sources and material gathered in the course of her/his work. If I am forced to comply with the production order I am being forced into breaching my own union’s ethical code, but also to be forced into being an unwilling agent of the state, handing over material that will surely be used as intelligence.
I also believe it will have serious consequences on my ability, and the ability of those in my profession, to report future events. We are already seeing a growing trend of intimation and violence against members of the press reporting on the frontline. This is based on a wide mistrust of the media, which has been accelerated by the increase in the use of production orders we have seen since the student protests of 2010.
NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “Journalists play a critical role in informing the public and the police should not be trying to hands their hands on journalistic material. Media workers are engaged in professional activity which is independent of the police and they should never be seen as collectors of information for the state. It is an attack on press freedom and turns every photographer, videographer and journalist into a potential target.”
The impact of this continuing trend of production order use will have dire consequences on press freedom in this country, to the extent that eventually we may not be able to report some events at all. The courts have recognised the vital role of the media as the public watchdog. With the press unable to operate a fundamental pillar of our democracy slips away.
The irony is that the restrictions on the press to operate freely will not come from the authorities – as we have seen with the misuse of anti-terror and other restrictive laws – it will come from the mistrust of the media by the public, believing that footage shot and images taken could be seized by the police. In effect the public may also unwittingly impact on press freedom.
I have operated in countries like Egypt, Mexico and Russia, where the press are under physical control of the state, and I have experienced first-hand the tactics deployed to stop the press reporting, from beatings in the street, journalist material seized and destroyed or used to apprehend protestors, to simply having a police sniper trying to put a bullet in the head of the camera operator first, in order to eliminate any witnesses to the atrocities they intend to commit. Is that the route we want to head towards here in the UK?
We need to be totally independent of the state, in order to get to the truth behind incredibly dangerous and sensitive situations. If no one was able to analyse the recent UK riots, or talk to the people on the ground as events took place, then we would only have the government response as to why they happened, ending in the government dictating the official line.
We need a strong and united campaign of awareness across our media organisations to resist this attack on press freedom.
The proceedings at Chelmsford will commence at 10am tomorrow morning. If we are able, judge willing, we will be tweeting from the court. For updates please follow @NUJPhoto #productionorder.