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Assault and threats by police

NUJ issues new advice after incidents at Bristol demos

JOURNALISTS showing their Press Cards, including freelance members of NUJ Bristol Branch, have been subjected to assault, harassment or threats of arrest while covering recent "Kill the Bill" demonstrations in Bristol (24-27 March.)

NUJ Organiser David Ayrton and NUJ Bristol Branch Chair Paul Breeden are co-ordinating the Union’s response to the "unacceptable treatment of journalists" covering local demos. (They can be contacted via the Freelance via editor@londonfreelance.org if needed.)

Seamus Dooley, NUJ assistant general secretary, said the actions of some police officers marked "an unwelcome departure from the standard of policing which has characterised similar public demonstrations and gatherings in other parts of the UK". He added that the NUJ would be raising the issue at a local and national level, and with the Avon & Somerset Constabulary (the force that polices Bristol). The NUJ's response to the policing of journalists in Bristol is here.

Matthew Dresch, a reporter for the Daily Mirror, shared footage on Twitter which appeared to show police pushing him away and hitting him with a baton "even though I told them I was from the Press."

Alon Aviram and Adam Cantwell-Corn were reporting together on the events for local news outlet The Bristol Cable. Alon released a video on Twitter showing a confrontation with a police sergeant in charge of a line of riot police. After withdrawing his squad into a position in the street near a line of parked police vans, The sergeant threatens Alon and Adam repeatedly with arrest despite them telling him (off camera) that they are showing him their NUJ Press Cards. "Doesn't matter if you are journalists..." the officer tells them.

Alon and Adam are clearly filming from the side of the road near the pavement, a reasonable distance away from a withdrawing unit of police, with nobody else visible nearby.

In the soundtrack to the footage, one of the two journalists can be heard telling police officers about the National Police Chiefs Council letter of guidance which makes clear to police officers that "Journalists are covered as key workers" and that "There is a public interest in keeping the population informed of the developing crisis and subsequent recovery/return to normality".

Journalists are reminded to print out a copy of this letter and carry it on their person if they expect to find themselves in a public order policing situation as part of their work. The letter also reminds us that "Journalists will be expected to carry a UK Press Card or other official record of employment"

Soon after, Alon tweeted that "A high ranking officer with Avon and Somerset has now extended apologies for this incident. He will be feeding back to the officer's force (not ASP) about training regarding the role of the press, we are told."(ASP is Avon & Somerset Police). According to Adam, "Press card fully on show, Just got threatened with dogs and force by an officer despite telling him we are journalists. A senior officer later stepped in to tell him to back off."

One report on the 27 March Bristol Kill the Bill demo claimed that - based on the insignia on the numerous police vans parked in the area - many of the police officers present had been drafted in from three other police forces than Avon & Somerset.

Following the incidents in Bristol, the NUJ issued further advice for journalists covering demonstrations. This emphasise that recent threats and injuries to journalists have come "as a consequence of the actions of both police and protesters."

This includes:

  • consider identifying yourself to officers and showing them your Press Card when things are quiet;
  • buddy up with a colleague if you can;
  • be extra careful where you place yourself;
  • discuss any concerns you may have about the use of your byline or picture credit with your commissioning editor in advance.

It also recommends that right now demonstrations are "not an environment to send inexperienced, untrained journalists" to.

NUJ members thinking of covering demos are reminded that their Press Cards will need to be up to date. Police do routinely check the dates on cards and send away anyone whose Press Cards has expired. We understand that the earlier backlog of Press Card applications issued via the NUJ has now been cleared and renewing them if they're about to expire should now be quicker.

Members are also reminded of the emergency numbers for legal assistance for legal help if – for example - they face arrest or police interview.