Photographers ordered to hand pics to police (update Monday 11.45am)

August 5, 2011

Media organisations have expressed disappointment after a judge ruled that news agencies and broadcasters must hand over photographs and footage of recent rioting in Belfast.

Judge Piers Grant said there was a ?strong likelihood? that providing the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) with the images could help identify rioters and secure convictions, according to reports.

The PSNI?s application related to riots in Belfast on 11,12 and 13 July and was opposed by media organisations at Belfast County Court.

Reacting to the news, Belfast Telegraph editor Mike Gilson fears the ruling could lead to the media being seen as ?potential evidence gatherers? for police.

In an editorial for the newspaper Gilson wrote that the media ?stands four-square on the side of law and order?, but added: ?Newspapers and television crews venture into all sorts of situations ? including highly dangerous scenes of violence ? to record events as they happen.

?It is, if you like, the first draft of history written and recorded by independent observers.

?In order to perform this duty safely and honestly, the news organisations have to be seen as impartial reporters bringing to the general public as full and rounded accounts of events as possible.?

Seamus Dooley, Irish Secretary at the National Union of Journalists, said: ‘We support the media organisations in their view that this was a fishing expedition on the part of the PSNI.

‘Broadcast material was freely available and it is unlikely that the material will be of any substantive value compared to the risks which are inherent in the order for photographers.

‘In covering riot situations, photographers should not be seen as agents of the State or the police authorities.’

Also voicing disappointment at the decision was the BBC which said in a statement published on the BBC News website: ?Our challenge to the police application for unbroadcast material was to ensure the independence and safety of our camera crews and reporters whilst covering public disorder ? often under difficult circumstances.’

A press photographer was shot in the leg during disturbances in June.

Niall Carson, who works for the Press Association news agency, was taken to hospital where he underwent minor surgery.

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