In my blog entry Wimbledon Rules I joked about restrictions on photography for journalists at Wimbledon Tennis Championships. Of course the accredited photographers at the Championships do not face any unreasonable restrictions that would prevent them giving us smashing photographs from the matches.
British journalists, however, are unhappy about the letter the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has written recently to the National Union of Journalists (NUJ). On the one hand she said that the Home Office itself does not produce any “guidance” on photography in public places. On the other hand she gave support to local decisions “to restrict or monitor” photography in reasonable circumstances. As the Home Office does not produce any guidance, it is up to the local police to decide what constitutes reasonable circumstances.
Since her letter was a response to NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear requesting her that police stop monitoring journalists and photographers covering public events and stop preventing them doing their job, I presume that the NUJ is not very happy with the reply.
Some are making connection between this and a very public Counter Terrorism campaign by the London Metropolitan Police targeting people who are taking photos (and those with more than one mobile telephone) as potential terrorism suspects. The magazine DSLR Doctor is outraged and published an article on rights of anyone taking photographs in public places. It is very sensible – be polite, be firm and do not escalate.
Photographers need not fear – they have some friends in high places. Austin Mitchell MP proposed in March 2008 an Early Day Motion stating that the House of Commons is concerns and, ironically, asking exactly what the Home Secretary has refused to do – for the police to have a national code for officers so that they will know what they can and cannot do. The motion appears also to criticise the Met for making suggestion that mere photographers in public places should be monitored. It is, in fact, quite encouraging that such a motion was put forward and got quite a lot of support.
In fact there is a code between police and, media reporters, press photographers and TV crews in the UK. It took two years to negotiate, applies only to those that hold UK Press Card and, again, is very sensible. First and utmost it recognises that for the press it is a duty, not a hobby, to take pictures, that it is for the editors, not the police, to decide what gets published, and that a bit of planning and cooperation is better than barking at each other or even confiscating cameras – for which the police have no right without a court order. Who needs a government minister to improve on this?