Should Police Officers Censor What Press Photographers Photograph On The Public Streets?
It’s a very worrying question, with an extremely worrying answer coming from some members of the Police force and even more so from Police Community Support Officers. Having several friends in the Police, I know for a fact that no where in their training does it state that officers should censor this country’s free press. As long as members of the press aren’t breaking Police cordons, or on private property after being asked to leave, the Police (and I include PCSOs in this) have no power, nor rights to interfere with a photographer going about doing their job; in this case gathering news.
Sadly, last week’s court case at the Old Bailey, where two of the racist murderers of Stephen Lawrence were finally jailed, illustrated just how ill-informed some members of the Police and PCSOs are. Just what the motivation is to stop a story like this being covered is baffling.
Journalist, turned press photographer, Nicholas Razzell has been photographing high-profile criminal and civil court cases since 1999, including Jeffrey Archer, Paul Burrell, Kieran Fallon, Naomi Campbell, Paul McCartney, Charles Bronson, numerous murder and terrorism trials and more recently cases such as Julian Assange.
When asked about photographing these court cases, Nicholas says, “For most of that time the press and TV either self-police or on the odd occasion have had to work behind barriers. However, it is only in the last 5 years or so that I’ve found Policemen and particularly PCSO’s who have either no understanding of the law or it’s enforcement, getting involved”.
“This came to head when Julian Assange was released from custody at the High Court in London when a Met Police Inspector (ably assisted by a Sky TV Producer) organised a “pool”…practically destroying any freelancers chance of getting a competitive picture.”
“Last week (Stephen Lawrence case, the Old Bailey) was just another occasion where we were prevented from doing our job. As yet there is no “right to privacy” in the UK (thank god) and it certainly isn’t up to uniformed and uninformed officers on the street, or PCSO’s to decide what we can and cannot photograph. Physically preventing us from getting a picture is one step away from moral and political censorship”.
Another photographer adds, ” It was a complete joke. The Police officers couldn’t decide which side of the street to make us stand on. One officer said we couldn’t stand under the scaffolding (open to the public) on kerb opposite because “the building company haven’t given you permission” – to stand on a public street? Then they insisted we stand about 50 yards away (to do a car shot) and when the car arrived one officer followed me across the street to make sure he blocked my view. I asked another officer if this was still a public street? She refused to answer”.
One thing is for sure; a member of the Police force should not put up their hand to cover a photographer’s lens and stop images being taken. These newsworthy moments happen in a fraction of a second and are gone forever. Press photographers have a duty to bear witness, not only for the next day’s newspapers and websites, but for historical reasons too.
For any members of the Police force and PCSOs unclear about the rights of citizens (including members of the media, because we are after all, citizens too) who wish to photograph in public places, may I encourage you to read the official Met Police Photography Advice page?
Any member of the media, regardless of if they are a member of the NUJ or not, can report any incidents to the NUJ. Please make sure you have badge numbers and if possible, audio and/or video recordings. This will not only help the press to do our jobs properly, but will also help the Police train their officers and PCSOs better.
The Police Respond:
A City of London Police spokesperson said: “We work closely with journalists and photographers at the Old Bailey to make sure they’re able to do their job and the public are able to go about their business. We continue to liaise with journalists, photographers and the local community to ensure this is the case”.