On the 25th April, the High Court in London will decide whether Essex Police have the right to seize hours of footage from journalists working at Dale Farm during the eviction last October. The case focuses on a ‘production order’ granted by an Essex court last December to allow footage taken at Dale Farm to be used as evidence against Traveller families and their supporters. Given the flagrant bias and racism we have seen in the courts against those trying to defend their homes, the Traveller Solidarity Network is deeply concerned about the use of such draconian laws by the Essex police.
However, the case is not just about Dale Farm: it has wider ramifications for the relationship between journalists, protesters and the police. In the last year there has been a significant increase in ‘production orders’ served by the government. The summer riots, as well as a protest outside the Syrian embassy have been the focus of these tactics. With the courts backing them so far, the police are using journalists as a branch of law enforcement, which has dangerous consequences for freedom of the press as well as those protesting against the hard political times in which we live. In particular, those engaging in civil disobedience, a widely accepted form of protest, will be made even more wary of journalists [by no means a bad thing for those opposing dissent]. As the general secretary of the NUJ Michelle Stanistreet said last month, the media’s ability to play a ‘critical public interest role’ is being further eroded by this tactic.
Those fighting Essex Police’s ‘production order’ are freelance journalists who have shown admirable courage of conviction by resisting the police’s attempts to co-opt journalists’ work. Even some major networks have put their weight behind the NUJ campaign. Last month, ITN CEO John Hardie expressed ‘alarm’ at the “frequency and nature of these requests.” BskyB and the BBC have echoed these concerns.
To highlight the importance of this case and its effects the National Union of Journalists are holding a ‘Not FIT’ protest outside, in reference to the ‘Forward Intelligence Team’, the British police’s video units. Worryingly, such spying, intimidation and constant information gathering is today seen as a normal feature of protests in the UK. But now it seems that, partially as a cost-cutting measure, journalists’ footage is being seen as an equal part of this Big Brother process. This is yet another step in the criminalisation of dissent and the erosion of the freedom to protest. For everyone in the UK, it’s vital that we stand beside the NUJ and stop the police and courts from curbing journalistic freedom.
This statement is supported by the Network for Police Monitoring.
The London Photographer’s Branch of the NUJ will be holding a protest outside the High Court on the 25th April, as well as holding a public meeting on the 19th April in parliament.