Media fears over riot footage

Published Wednesday, 03 August 2011
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UTV and the BBC are fighting a legal bid to make them hand over unseen footage of July's rioting in Belfast - on the grounds journalists could be seen as "police evidence gatherers".

Lawyers for the news organisations claim handing over the material to the PSNI could have a "chilling effect" on the safety of camera crews and reporters.

The PSNI is seeking access to the unedited footage, which has not been broadcast, as part of ongoing investigations into serious violence in north and west Belfast on July 11 and 12.

Over 40 officers were injured as they came under attack from mobs throwing petrol bombs and other missiles. Vehicles were also hijacked and set alight and thousands of pounds of damage caused to property.

There is the safety issue in terms of journalists themselves, and the chilling effect these orders may have.

Press lawyer

Judge Piers Grant was told in court on Wednesday that material released by the media, following a similar application last summer, was crucial in making 15 prosecutions.

A detective sergeant explained that police have less than ten hours of their own footage, which officers believe to be of poorer quality than potential press footage.

Among the images held by the PSNI are CCTV recordings from a police helicopter of a burning car being rolled into a crowd of people in Ardoyne.

The court heard the footage was of poor evidential value and that the press may have better quality images of the same scenes.

But with the case centring on competing claims between the public interest in convicting the troublemakers and the threat to the freedom of the press, opposition was set out.

A lawyer for UTV argued that the broadcaster did not want to be filming events "as an arm of the state".

He added: "There remains a fear that cameramen and journalists might be perceived as collecting on behalf of the police in the future."

A lawyer for the BBC also argued against the handing over of unseen footage and broadcasters being perceived as "auxiliary evidence gatherers for the police".

"That may impede the ability of an organisation such as the BBC to inform the population about what is going on in the streets of the city," he added.

After hearing from both sides in the application, Judge Grant reserved his decision.

© UTV News
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8 Comments
Tomc in Belfast wrote (1,205 days ago):
Folks....lets stop classing journalists and reporters as impartial. Journalists and reporters are self serving money hounds, end of story. This is not some form of legal privlige or hypocratic oath....it's straightforward seizure and disclosure of evidence of crime. When a riot takes place i don't think to myself...Oooh i do hope the reporters will be there to record it...i think, go in bust some heads and get it dealt with. this "compassion" for the news hounds is beyond funny, it's just plain unbelievable
LES in ards wrote (1,205 days ago):
have the police no video evidence that could be used to charge these thugs?the media are in enough danger without handing over the unseen film, remember one was shot on the newtownards road.
Veritas in Belfast wrote (1,205 days ago):
The press are meant to be impartial and seizure of TV footage in this matter could put the reporters lives at risk.
David in Belfast wrote (1,206 days ago):
Good point by Paul. Starve them of the glory of watching their antics on telly and they'll stay in bed. The media can then stop paying for their blue bag exploits
James in Belfast wrote (1,206 days ago):
@ Gerald, you don't seem to understand so let me explain, if the media are forced to hand over material they will be targeted while reporting future terror attacks or riots etc, I support the BBC and UTV on this matter.
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