Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The influence of 'citizen journalists'

A SchNEWS RETORT TO THE POLICE REPORT
SchNEWS has cast our cynical eye over the HMIC (Her Majesty's
Inspectorate of Constabulary) report about the policing of the G20
protests, 'Adapting To Protest'. The HMIC say they welcome
feedback on the report. Well here's SchNEWS' take...

So why was this report commissioned? Maybe something about the
police being out of order, the fact an innocent bystander was killed
or that all this was caught on camera? In the words of the HMIC:
'The high volume of publicly sourced footage of the protests,
including the events leading up to the death of Ian Tomlinson, has
demonstrated the influence of 'citizen journalists'
- members of the public who play an active role in collecting,
analysing and distributing media themselves. Consequently, individual
and collective police actions are under enormous public
scrutiny.'

The report is more concerned about the perception of the police than
the police actions themselves. Police were initially pleased with
media coverage, but 'by the 5th April this was becoming more
critical. This intensified following the emergence of images relating
to the death of Ian Tomlinson.' One suggested solution to this
is to have 'embedded' journalists with police on the front
line! Police say they face 'dilemmas around using potentially
sensitive information connected with death or serious injuries at
public order events which may subsequently become evidence in legal
proceedings.' But this didn't stop them spinning a whole
host of lies over the death of Ian Tomlinson (claiming there was no
police contact, medics were assaulted, and he died from a heart attack
- SchNEWS 672).

We are told that in relation to the press there should be
'Awareness and recognition of the UK press card by officers on
cordons, to identify legitimate members of the press.' But what
use is a press card when police officers don't give a damn if
you are press or not? On April 2nd there was a Section 14 notice
(under the Public Order Act) issued to the press. A City of London
Police Inspector told the press to 'Go away for half an hour and
possibly come back to help us resolve this situation.' He was
acting on behalf of Commander Broadhurst who was top cop for the day
- so harassment of the press was coming right from the top and
being carried out by an Inspector. Yet the report makes no mention of
this - it is not a case of a few officers failing to recognise
press cards, it is a systematic abuse of the police's powers to
manage the news and restrict the freedom of the press (it's also
a shame more press don't stand up for press freedom and refuse
to cooperate with unreasonable police demands).

In the build up to the G20 protests, there were lots of media reports
anticipating violence. The report has a breathtaking omission:
'An article titled 'The Summer of Rage Starts Here'
was published on a popular protester website by a member calling
themselves London Anarchists.' But it totally fails to mention
that the phrase 'Summer of Rage' was coined by David
Hartshorn, who heads the Met's public order branch.
Also,?no mention is made of police blogs gleefully spoiling for a
fight, or Commander Simon O'Brien's boast:
'We're up to it and we're up for it.' Such
spin can only be designed to try and deflect blame from the police
themselves for ratcheting up the tension.

The report also conducted an opinion poll survey on the
public's attitude to the police and protesting (well, they need
to frame their PR correctly). It did admit that there was a split on
whether the police handled the G20 protests well, but did show the
public were largely favourable of the police overall. Also it showed a
distinct age and class bias, with young people and the working classes
being the least in favour of the police - reflecting the obvious
fact that the police are there for the rich rather than the poor and
likely to hassle youth.

Curiously, the report is illustrated throughout with rent-a-mob riot
porn photos: masked protesters, a fire, smashed windows, brew crew
with a bottle... but funnily no snarling riot cops without ID numbers
hitting people with truncheons!

There were some acknowledgements that the police did cock up on the
day - apparently we will see all Met officers displaying their
numbers in future (we wait with baited breath). The report is critical
of police planning for the day saying that a whole protest should not
be criminalised - it acknowledges that people have a right to
protest and that this should be protected under human rights law:
'the police, are required to show a certain degree of tolerance
towards peaceful gatherings... even if these protests cause a level of
obstruction or disruption.' How much disruption is a matter of
'debate' according to the report.

The police claimed they were at a disadvantage when it comes to
communication on the ground: they have to cope with a 'flexible
and responsive protest community which is capable of advanced
communication and immediate reaction to events on the ground. This is
in stark contrast to the traditional communication capabilities of the
police.' So let's get this straight - the police
have at their disposal CCTV street coverage, helicopters tracking
movements of crowds, radio communication equipment and a central
command bunker overseeing the whole operation and they are at a
disadvantage over us with mobile phones and a
make-it-up-as-you-go-along attitude on the ground?!

The most controversial tactic of all, 'kettling' gets the
thumbs up from the HMIC, which they qualify as being suitable as long
as it is proportionate - but police should let people leave the
areas if they er, like the look of you (ditch the black hoodie for a
suit?). The report recommends updating ACPO's public order
manual and says that the police need to adapt their public order
tactics. However, the police have already tried to deflect criticism
of their tactics, with Commander Bob Broadhurst, the head of the
Public Order Unit, laying the blame at the feet of inexperienced
ordinary police officers for the violent and repressive policing at
the G20. They ignore the whole issue of kettling and the fact that the
two most reported instances of police abuse (the death of Ian
Tomlinson and the blatant assault on Nicola Fisher) were committed by
the TSG - the Met's fully trained riot goons. The police are
still trying to spin the few bad apples line, when we know it's
the whole damn cart that is rotten.

* See full report at: www.inspectorates.justice.gov.uk/hmic/docs/ap

More information following the campaign against police violence,
inspired by Ian Tomlinson's death:
http://againstpoliceviolence.blogspot.com

1 comment:

Al said...

Kudos, great article. I'm just not as sure what they have against the G-20. But the right to protest is clear regardless.