Thursday, 17 May 2012

Dale Farm a 'huge victory' for press freedom

The NUJ has today welcomed the Court of Appeal today overturning the decision forcing the media to hand over unbroadcast footage from last October's Dale Farm evictions to Essex Police.

ITN, the BBC, Sky, Hardcash Productions and the NUJ launched their appeal following the decision by Chelmsford Crown Court to grant the production order earlier this year.

The court’s decision was overturned in a judgment handed down by Mr Justice Eady and Lord Justice Moses at the Royal Courts of Justice this morning.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “Today is a huge victory for the cause of press freedom and the protection of sources and journalistic material. We are incredibly pleased that the NUJ and other media organisations have won the High Court battle against the police production order to force journalists to hand over their Dale Farm eviction footage.”

The NUJ supported  video journalist Jason Parkinson who along with the broadcasters fought the production order. 

Parkinson said: "This ruling to overturn the Crown Court's decision to grant the Dale Farm production order sends a very clear message to all police forces that these wide-ranging fishing trips will not be accepted by the UK courts and that we will not be forced into the role of unwilling agents of the state. We are not there as evidence gatherers to fill police intelligence databases with hours of material on activists or protestors, we are journalists and we are there to report the news and keep the public informed.

"In the last 18 months, every time one of these orders have been served it has put journalists in greater danger while trying to report on public order situations. I know this because I have been threatened and assaulted by people claiming my material will be used by the police. I am very happy to see Judge Moses has recognised the impact these orders have had on the safety and impartiality of all journalists and has made sure any future production order applications must take this into account, as was clearly not the case this time round."

Speaking last month, Parkinson said: "On Tuesday 1 November 2011 I received an email from Essex police stating I was being served an order to obtain all my footage from the first two days of the Dale Farm eviction. That came 38 minutes after a separate email from Essex police press office asking to use my footage for "training purposes". They even offered me a visit to their in-house television unit.

"The union's own code of conduct lists the protection of sources and all journalistic material as a fundamental part of journalist ethics and in turn a fundamental part of our democracy. The ability to report free from state interference and indeed report on the state and hold them to account is the corner stone of what makes our democracy. When this was raised at Chelmsford Crown Court during the application hearing, prosecuting counsel said I held a 'very extreme view' for defending that code of conduct. But it's not just the NUJ or myself, claiming to be holding these extreme views. Across the board - Sky News, the BBC and ITN - all have said enough is enough with these fishing exercises.

"That is why I have opposed this production order and stood to uphold the NUJ Code of Conduct and protect all journalist sources and all material."

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