UPDATE 4 FEBRUARY: Press photographers fear police will find it easier to legally seize images if a key part of the Deregulation Bill, which receives its second reading in the House of Commons today, becomes law.
The British Press Photographers’ Association (BPPA) has joined other media groups, including The Newspaper Society, in condemning the bill.
They are concerned that it will allow a judge to authorise police seizure of photos and other journalistic material without the media being present to raise any objections.
The Newspaper Society has written to Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin to protest the changes which it complains have been ‘hidden away’ as part of the Deregulation Bill.
BPPA vice chairman Neil Turner told Amateur Photographer that his organisation is ‘deeply worried’, and described the way it has been ‘smuggled in through a back door’ as ‘appalling’.
He added: ‘Every time this Government sneaks a seemingly innocuous clause into a piece of general legislation it seems to have an effect on photography and journalism…
‘The hard-won protection given to journalistic materials under the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act has been chipped away at over the years and this appears to be a major assault on the media’s ability to protect its sources and materials.’
Photographers targeted as ‘evidence gatherers’
‘There was a time when all photographers could operate relatively safely in the UK because we were seen to be independent.
‘How we act hasn’t really changed but repeated attempts to harvest our images by law enforcement agencies has made us targets because we are perceived as evidence gatherers.’
Clause 47 of the Deregulation Bill, which is designed to cut bureaucracy, removes paragraphs 7-10 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act that deals with police application of ‘production orders’. The bill adds that ‘criminal procedure rules’ may be used.
Turner added: ‘Good, independent and effective journalism is a bedrock of our democracy and this piece of legislation chips away at it in the worse possible way.’
A Cabinet Office spokesman told The Guardian that the bill would bring the Police and Criminal Evidence Act into line with other laws in this area and ‘would allow the criminal procedure rules committee to make procedure rules that are consistent and fair’.
The spokesman told the newspaper that Letwin is happy to meet media bodies before the bill reaches the committee stage.