In October last year, the BBC, ITN and Sky News were present at the eviction of the Dale Farm protesters. As the protesters in question were being evicted from waste land that had nevertheless been their home for many years, their removal was not peaceful. In order to make an example of these protesters, and to terrorise any others contemplating resisting the almighty power of the bourgeois state, the police were minded to bring prosecutions against those who had been involved in resisting eviction.
Unfortunately for the prosecutors, however, the only evidence they had was the say-so of the police officers involved, which nowadays nobody would consider objective or dispassionate. As a result, somebody had the bright idea of requisitioning the footage taken by the various news reporters present, which the organisations in question refused to do, as it would have compromised their role as independent reporters of events.
The police took the matter to Chelmsford Crown Court, which duly made a Production Order demanding that the footage be handed over, but an application was immediately made by the organisations in question to the High Court for a judicial review that would absolve them from doing so, an action which had the full support of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ).
The hearing of the judicial review took place on 17 May, and it upheld the view of the broadcasters that they should not be asked to act as police spies and could not be required to hand over the footage in question.
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, rightly stated:
“The media played a critical public-interest role in reporting on Dale Farm and the case will have significant implications for the whole of our industry. Journalists are put in danger if footage gathered whilst reporting events is seized and used by the police. The NUJ’s code of conduct compels the union – and our members – to defend a vital principle, the protection of journalistic sources and material.”
Nevertheless, it must be remembered that a single swallow does not make a spring. Mr Justice Eady in the High Court found that the police, having no evidence at all, were on a simple ‘fishing trip’, but plenty of scope is still left for production orders to be made against journalists on other occasions.
There is no general acceptance of any right for a journalist to protect his sources, and even the NUJ has apparently been complicit in allowing police investigating the goings-on at News International to have access to reporters’ private emails in what can only be described as a fishing trip the main purpose of which may well turn out to be ‘outing’ whistle-blowers without whose assistance the cosy relations between press barons, kings of finance and bourgeois politicians of all shades might never so embarrassingly have been exposed to the light of day.
> Dale Farm: lessons to be learned – December 2011