Police State War Against Photojournalism
December 16, 2008
As a photographer, I am deeply concerned about restrictions placed on photographing in public places since September 11, 2008. In America, even here in the Constitution free zone of southern New Mexico, these restrictions are not fully in effect yet, not like they are in Britain. Aspects of the liberty control grid now in effect on the other side of the pond, however, will eventually make their way over here. It appears Britain is the incubator for the police state apparatus going into place.
On December 3, Vernon Coaker, the Minister for Security, Counter-terrorism, Crime and Policing and in Britain, wrote the National Union of Journalists and informed it of measures that it has taken since their meeting on November 5. “The meeting was arranged after Home Secretary Jacqui Smith shocked photographers by appearing to condone increasing police restrictions, despite confirming there is no legal framework to prevent them shooting in public,” reports The British Journal of Photography.
In the letter, the Minister has confirmed that photography can be limited in public places in special circumstances. The letter reads: “This may be on the grounds of national security or there may be situations in which the taking of photographs may cause or lead to public order situations or inflame an already tense situation or raise security considerations. Additionally, the police may require a person to move on in order to prevent a breach of the peace or to avoid a public order situation or for the person’s own safety and welfare or for the safety and welfare of others.”
For more information, see John Ozimek’s New terror guidelines on photography.
However, these supposed concerns about national security are little more than a ruse. On December 15, Chris Cheesman filed a report with Amateur Photographer detailing the case of Jess Hurd, a British press photographer working on a wedding story for the Guardian. Hurd “had been shooting video of guests leaving a wedding reception when she was stopped outside the Ramada Hotel in Docklands at 5.10pm on 10 December. Prior to that she had been recording still images using her Canon EOS 1D Mark II digital SLR,” reports Cheesman.
Hurd was detained for 45 minutes under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The police suspected her of being involved in some type of hostile reconnaissance in an area which is close to Canary Wharf. “Police allegedly seized her camera to view the images she had taken, despite her protests that she was an accredited journalist.”
In an absurd turn of events, the police told the press photographer she could not use the video footage because it is copyrighted by the police.
British police were even more heavy-handed with photo journalists covering a demonstration at the Greek embassy in London on December 8. “The photojournalists, Jason Parkinson and Marc Vallée have complained of being physically removed from any area from which they could document events,” reports the British Journal of Photography. “Even where a protest is itself illegal, the media have a right to report on events and the police should not be taking action with the intention of obstructing journalists in their work,” National Union of Journalists legal officer Roy Mincoff told BJP.
“The protesters took down the Greek flag from a pole in front of the embassy and set fire to it and raised a red and black anarchist flag in its place. The protest was part of a European wide day of action after two Greek police officers were arrested for killing a 15-year-old boy, Andreas Grigoropoulos, which has set off a wave of violent protests across Greece,” writes Marc Vallée on his blog.
The British state is attempting to stage manage the news and prevent independent journalists from reporting news that may be an embarrassment. In addition, they are sending a message to photo journalists that they do not have rights and in fact photographing news events without the permission of the state is suspicious and possibly a terrorist act. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has told the media they are terrorist suspects and the police will continue to manhandle their cameras, detain them, review their video footage, claim copyright over video and photo images, and ticket them.
All of this is coming to America. As Democracy Now reported on July 1, 2008, so-called Terrorism Liaison Officers in Colorado — firefighters, paramedics, police, and even corporate employees — are being trained to hunt down and report a broadly defined range of “suspicious activities,” including taking photographs and video footage. “The list of suspicious behaviors includes taking photographs or videos of no apparent aesthetic value, making measurements, drawings, or taking notes, and conversing in code,” reports AlterNet. Terrorism Liaison Officers are apparently active as well in Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Tennessee, Washington, DC, and Wisconsin.
New York leads the way with its MTA “If You See Something, Say Something” program that considers photography “suspicious behavior.”
Incessant propaganda related to the contrived GWOT has turned much of the public against photographers. As a street photographer, I have been confronted on numerous occasions by suspicious citizens. Several years ago a U.S. border guard at the Columbus-Palomas border crossing into Mexico threatened to confiscate my camera.
I take “odd” photographs of old buildings and street scenes. In Britain a poster campaign characterizes “odd” photography as potential terrorism. “The advertising campaign is part of a three-poster series encouraging citizens to think that people on the street who have more than one cell phone, or are taking pictures, or who come and go from a house that has a lot of activity, could be involved in terrorism,” the National Press Photographers Association reported in March. “The posters warning the citizenry about ‘odd’ photographers also ran in several UK newspapers.”
Odd photographers and non-sanctioned photojournalists and videographers are now considered terrorists. After the next false flag terror attack when the government and corporate media crank up the paranoia and hate and martial law is declared, how long before photographers and journalists are dealt with the same way many of them are in the third world or by the military in Iraq — with a bullet delivered to the back of the head?