I rarely blog from a press release like this one but the subject matter is too important to quietly let go and it’s no stranger to regular readers of my blog.
A Bindmans press release details the plight of Ms. Jess Hurd, a photojournalist in the UK; it does not say what city she calls home, though this incident occurred in London.
According to the press release, Jess was covering a wedding in the London Docklands area when officers questioned her as to what she was doing. Even after offering her press card to confirm she was a legitimate journalist, Jess saw no immediate relief from the harassment.
As part of their interrogation, the officers viewed all of Jess’s footage and she was in fear that the officers might even decide to erase (“wipe” in British English) all of it. And I might add, quite rightfully so; even though even in the UK the officers do not have the authority to do this, this has happened elsewhere, particularly in parts of the US, and the UK’s “counterterrorism” laws are draconian by comparison.
In fact, Jess was told she would not be able to use some of her footage (perhaps even all of it) due to a copyright claim by either the officer individually or by the Metropolitan Police press office. This has to be one of the most ludicrous things I have ever run across, even by UK standards. (For the new people, I’m no huge fan of the UK government, and the archives on past rants of UK government misdeeds demonstrate that quite well.)
As for the resolution, I quote part of the press release, dealing with the remedies sought, and a quote from the National Union of Journalists legal officer who has some choice words about the officers involved:
What Ms Hurd seeks
Ms Hurd is seeking a full apology, confirmation that the officers involved have received training in relation to the appropriate use of S44 of the Terrorism Act and the responsibilities set out in the Association of Chief Police Officers (‘ACPO’) Police Media Guidelines (‘the Guidelines’), which are in force nationally, as well as any other measures considered appropriate given the many breaches of the Standards of Professional Behaviour, The Police (Conduct) Regulations 2008 arising from the treatment she has received.
Ms Hurd’s lawyer, instructed by the NUJ, Ms Chez Cotton, Head of the Police Misconduct Department at leading London law firm Bindmans LLP said:
“The police appear to have been interested in Ms Hurd only because she was filming and used S44 of the Terrorism Act where suspicion is not necessary to stop and search her, in full knowledge that she was a photojournalist. Ms Hurd had voluntarily explained her presence and provided identification that only accredited members of the press carry, which it is agreed that police forces nationally will recognise. Despite this, her footage was viewed for the most spurious of reasons and counter to basic principles of a free press. A Joint Committee for Human Rights report of July 2009 stated, ‘…we deplore the obvious overuse of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 in recent years’. The treatment of Ms Hurd is a stark example of such misuse of S44 and made all the more serious because officers were fully aware of the status of Ms Hurd as an accredited photojournalist professionally engaged at the time of the use of the controversial provision.”
NUJ Legal Officer, Roy Mincoff said:
“It appears that for no good reason Jess Hurd was treated, and continued to be treated, as if she were a suspected terrorist. The NUJ considers The Police’s apparent failure to recognise the PressCard, and ignorance of ACPO Guidelines and lack of knowledge of the law to be unacceptable. We welcome more recent ACPO advice as to the role of the media and how legislation should be applied, and Ministerial assurances that anti-terrorism legislation must only be used for that purpose, given after considerable and continuous efforts by the NUJ to achieve that progress.
Now these issues must be addressed in practice by the Police.
We will be keeping very close sight of this and take such action as necessary should further breaches occur.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. This is a flagrant mockery of justice and fairness. I have said this before, but I’ll say it again: a terrorist will not use the same types of video or photo gear that a professional journalist would use. A point-and-shoot similar to my Nikon Coolpix L18 (which is maybe a tad bigger than my wallet) would definitely get “surveillance quality” pictures and draw less attention than even an entry-level DSLR. Heck, the Coolpix L18 and most similar compact cameras technically do video as well (that’s not their primarily designed purpose of course, but the feature is present).