I posted this link on my personal Facebook page last night and it ignited a discussion, one that I think is important and requires far wider debate and understanding.


BBC, ITN and Sky News
give riot footage to police

In short, as the headline says, a number of media organisations have been forced by the police to hand over (unused) footage of the recent riots in theUK.

As a news gatherer this concerns me greatly. Reporters and Photographers operate in a number of environments;

If we consider the riot, the law has already broken down, to those rioting its almost “anything goes”, crowds move and the environment changes so fast that it is already a dangerous place to work. I really admire the guys who do this, putting themselves in harms way. Quite a few were attacked and had equipment stolen. Should they be working under the additional pressure of knowing that any rioter may see them as part of the law enforcement and attack them?

How about the peaceful protest and march? Along with my other journalists I often move through the body of a march; we are trusted, we are needed to spread the message, to get the subject into the media. Could this change? It would only take one or two in a crowd to take umbrage and the journalists  in the march could be in trouble.

Social documentary – reporters become trusted, it takes time to build that up. It only takes one publicised handing over of evidence to shatter all that trust.

I am over simplifying things here but it is clear this is an issue for wider debate and that the understanding of the public vs the understanding of news gatherers is totally out of sync.

For example, one point was made on my FB thread “not at all, given that their 24 coverage of the riot caused most of the copy cat outbreaks” and “if they hadn’t shown the police being overrun then other scum bags wouldn’t have had a go. it’s social responsibility.”

Thats a worrying thought. It’s clear to me that the press did not cause the riots and news would have spread if it had not  – all the pictures and videos of the riots would have come from mobile phones via youtube and facebook/twitter if the press had been censored. Then there is the international press…

That is a digression though.

Lets forget the riots for a moment and apply the same “social responsibility” clause to another recent news item The News of the World phone hacking scandal. Could it be argued the Guardian should have handed evidence over to the police earlier? If so, would it have kept digging? Would the police officers involvement been uncovered or buried?

Of course all journalists would volunteer evidence that they knew to be evidence in a way that would protect their sources; in many cases it is news investigations that have led to the major trials and scandals of our times. I am not not saying that this should never happen, my point is there is a HUGE difference between actual evidence and possible evidence with a chasm between giving and demanding with a court order. Also let us not forget that the European Court ruling protects media source(s).

There are so many threads and arguments to this discussion, far to many for me to add here so I will close on one final question.

“Hundreds of police officers are working through about 40,000 hours of CCTV footage in stations across the country. In London, Met officers are believed to be studying more than 20,000 hours of video at 30 viewing facilities.” . We have more CCTV cameras than any country in the world. We are the nation most watched by our authorities.  Do they really need this extra footage? If they do what is the point of all this CCTV?