Only doing our job...
REPORTING "public order situations" can be difficult. Especially if you're a photographer, and the only place you can do it from is in the thick of it: often sandwiched between police officers, who just want everyone to go away (or stay put, depending on their orders) and protesters, some not seeing a difference between press and police photographers.
The NUJ has had a series of meetings with the Metropolitan Police to see how things can be improved. On 5 November (at 8am!) General Secretary Jeremy Dear, LFB members Molly Cooper, Jess Hurd, Paul Mattson and I met Deputy Assistant Commissioner Andy Trotter, Commander Mike Messenger and press officer Anna DeVries.
A particular issue is that the union consistently gets reports of police officers failing, or refusing, to recognise the Press Card or appearing not to be aware of the system for verifying cards using a PIN. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) will, we heard, soon circulate guidelines and publicity about the press card to police stations.
The Met agreed to look at ways in which the union can be involved in briefings before major events, and at least at ways of making sure that the needs of journalists are mentioned at these.
Andy Trotter said that the problem of journalists being held in pens with protesters will "perhaps be a decreasing issue". Asked what a journalist who needs to get through a police line should do, he said: "Get to the cordon and talk to a supervisor - the sergeant or inspector - look for stripes and pips". If you can't do that, call the Met Department of Public Affairs 24-hour number: 020 7230 2171.
The force will also look at ways that these issues can be raised in Public Order training. We hope to arrange a visit by members to the new Gravesend training centre.
Of course, problems are as likely to arise in the course of normal policing or outside London as they are in major events in the Met area. We hope to arrange a meeting with ACPO to begin to deal with these issues more generally.
We need to hear how these things are playing out on the streets. If you are obstructed - or assisted - by police, please don't just shrug, but go to www.londonfreelance.org/policing to log a brief report.