Wednesday, 5 December 2012

NUJ: Ruling that photographers must hand over Belfast riot pictures is a 'blow to media freedom'

The NUJ has expressed "grave disappointment" at the decision of a court in Northern Ireland to compel photographers to hand over unbroadcast pictures of the riots in Belfast on 12 July 2012.

Judge David McFarland ruled that press photographer's unbroadcast material held by the Press Association and two photo agencies, Press Eye and Photopress, must be handed over to the police.

The judge did rule that the BBC, UTV and Sky did not have to hand over footage.

The BBC has reported that Judge David McFarland said he had to balance the public interest of identifying and prosecuting rioters against the potential risk to journalists if seen to be assisting in the police investigation. He stated: "There is no evidence to support the proposition that journalists may become the targets of attack should they be perceived to be evidence gathering for the police."

NUJ Irish Secretary Seamus Dooley said the decision of the Belfast Recorder was "A serious blow to media freedom at a time when photographers were under threat from a number of sources in Northern Ireland."

He added: "It is disappointing that the Recorder refused to accept the principle that media workers should never be put in the position of quasi police officers. He refused to acknowledge the risk which arises when independent journalists are perceived to be potential agents of the State. It is surprising that he found there was no risk in journalists handing over material.

"In a week in which a working photographer was struck by a police baton in a dangerous riot situation in Belfast this ruling is another setback for the freedom of the press in Northern Ireland and we will be considering carefully the implications of the ruling."

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