Police ask BBC for cuts protest footage
NUJ criticises Met's 'fishing trip', warning journalists of risks being seen as 'information gatherers'
BBC journalists have been asked if they would be willing to hand over unbroadcast footage of last month's march against government cuts in central London, as part of the Metropolitan police's investigation into violence at the demonstration.
The initial approaches to reporters prompted a swift reaction from the NUJ, whose general secretary warned journalists of the risks of handing over any of their material to the police.
It is understood that detectives from the Met have contacted a number of people in BBC News about the possibility of obtaining unseen material of the event. A hard core of militant activists caused extensive damage in London's West End at the end of the protest organised by the TUC on 26 March.
Officially, a spokesman for the Metropolitan police said it was currently "considering" requesting media organisations for unbroadcast footage. However, unofficial contact already appears to have been made with some journalists at the BBC, prompting the National Union of Journalists general secretary Jeremy Dear to release a statement.
Dear described it as to be a "fishing trip" and warned of the hazards of journalists being seen as "information gatherers" for the police. "The NUJ has a long and proud record in fighting to protect journalists faced with actions over sources or journalistic material," said Dear in an email to NUJ members.
He added: "It is important we do not allow the police to use journalists as information gatherers for their purposes. Such a move places all journalists at greater risk when covering public order issues and stops sources coming forward. The NUJ stance has been confirmed in various cases before the UK and European courts."
Dear said a number of NUJ members at the BBC had received emails regarding police attempts to secure unbroadcast material from the demonstration. He said he had also written to the BBC urging them to make "strong representations" in defence of the confidentiality of journalists' material and their sources.
A Metropolitan police spokeswoman said: "As part of the investigation into the serious disorder and violence committed in the West End on Saturday 26 March, detectives are considering requesting unbroadcast footage from media organisations.
"This is regularly a consideration for those responsible for investigating these incidents and is done after careful consideration as to its necessity.
"Such footage is obtained via an application to the crown court, made under the Police & Criminal Evidence Act 1984. As part of this process all parties are able to put forward arguments, should they wish to do so."
The police can use the courts to access journalistic material provided they can show it is in the public interest or of substantial value to an investigation, and that they have taken all reasonable measures to obtain the material.
Police used court orders to seize TV footage of clashes between protestors and police ahead of the G8 summit in 2005.
No official police requests have so far been put into either ITN or Sky. A BBC News spokeswoman said: "The police have been in touch with us but there has been no formal request for any materials from the BBC."
Detectives from Operation Brontide – the team investigating the disorder – today released 18 images of people they want to identify following the violence around Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly and Oxford Street areas of central London.