Saturday, December 17, 2011

Breaking News: Police arresting reporters

I wrote this article about Police arresting reporters in 2002
Breaking news by Paul O’ Connor,Undercurrents

Dressed only in a white paper suit and little else, documentary maker Ben Edwards blinked as the early sun rose over the police station in Plymouth. It was the end of his 24 hour stint in a small cell, his video camera and tapes were now in the hands of the police. Just another statistic in the growing number of journalists in Britain arrested on the line of duty.
For three months Edwards has been documenting the direct action protests against the test crops of genetically modified crops (GM) up and down the country. Activists have destroyed over two thirds of all GM test crops growing in the open air. Edwards had been given exclusive access by the activists to report their actions as they trashed a GM site near Totnes in Devon on August 3rd. However the police were tipped off and duly arrested all the activists, along with Edwards, despite his credentials as a journalist. While he was locked up, police raided his home and seized his computer, and a number of video tapes and written material. Later, Edwards shook his head at the devastation of his home and said “ they seem to have no idea of what they were looking for, they even took tapes of documentaries I taped off the Tv”. Despite the home raid, detention and confiscation of his clothes, the police have yet to charge him with an offence. He is due to appear back at Plymouth police station on September 24.
A few weeks previously a journalist reporting for the Daily Mail was arrested in Ayrshire merely for knocking on a door.He was enquiring about the secret meeting of hugely influential capitalists known as the Bilderbergs. Eight years a journalist, Campbell Thomas, 34, is also a special constable and his initial disbelief at his arrest for breach of the peace was followed by 5 hours in a filthy cell.
Thomas said that “it seems that the arresting of journalists has been going on for a long time but newspaper and Tv editors rely so much on the police for tip offs that they don’t want to risk upsetting their prime source of news”
Despite all of the charges being dropped in court, he was suspended from his work as a special constable.

Television reporter Roddy Mansfield came up against the Metropolitan police while filming a protest against Rank leisure ltd. While he showed his NUJ press card he couldn’t remember his cards PIN. Mansfield was arrested for forgery of a press card. All the charges were later dropped, however all his news deadlines were missed and the story ended up on the edit suite floor. Since then he feels that he has been singled out for harassment by the police. He has been assaulted by riot police, had his camera smashed, been arrested 6 times and in May this year the Met. police actually erased his footage in front of him in the custody suite of Belgravia police station. However they didn’t figure on his camera picking up shots of their own feet and the microphone picking up their voices as they questioned him about him being a journalist. Mansfield sees it as his “first, real, hard piece of evidence of police news management”.

Photographer Nick Cobbing was one of the few journalists convicted and fined for obstruction of a bailiff despite the courts recognising him as a working reporter. He was arrested during the Manchester airport protests while working in the trees. While all the other journalists were corralled into the police controlled pen well away from the evictions,Cobbing managed to get into the trees and work where the news was happening. Cobbing is still in disbelief and he figures that the police have a covert plan “As the Police come under a lot of criticism for the policing methods, they want to put journalists off going to these events and the easiest journalists to put off are the freelances because they do not have the backing of the large news organisation.”
Another casualty at Manchester was HTV producer John Williams who was trunchoned over the head and dragged away from the protest site.
More worrying perhaps is the case of video journalist Gerard O’ Sullivan who was arrested in April while reporting at a vivisection protest in Oxfordshire. He has the dubious honour of becoming the first journalist to be charged under the Protection from Harassment act. Just who was been harassed by his filming remains open to debate but O’Sullivan has his suspicions “all I was doing was filming Thames valley police roughly handling a female protester when all of a sudden officers yanked the camera off me and arrested me under this law”.

Watch the film Breaking News which shows these arrests here.

Sally Gilbert, lawyer of the National Union of Journalists ( NUJ ) stated that “this law was intended mainly to protect women who were being stalked. When it was passed in 1997 the NUJ warned that it would be used against journalists”.
It now seems that the NUJ press card is no longer valid in the eyes of the police despite being originally introduced by the police themselves. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) spokesman Tim Mahoney cast any notions of police news management aside by saying “Do the police set out to control and manipulate the media? No, there is no intent to do that”
We can no longer sit back and watch our press freedom being eroded. Now is the time for the police to come clean about why they are intent on stopping the news reaching the nation. In the early part of this century the press baron, Lord Northcliff interpreted the news as “something which someone, somewhere wants to suppress, everything else is just advertising”. With the corporate take over of our media is vital that the real issues are reported and that journalists don’t find themselves wandering the streets in white paper suits.

Paul O’ Connor is the producer of undercurrents alternative news video. Undercurrents 9 has an award winning investigation into police suppression of the news called Breaking news.

Breaking news is available on undercurrents the alternative news video issue 9

Undercurrents is an award winning alternative news service producing videos of people taking inspiring actions.

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