Frontline journalists need law’s help, not hindrance
Published 22/12/2012 | 08:00
The secret of a good Readers' Editor column, obviously, is to champion the interests of readers. These can range from meaningful complaints about the tone, or nature, of articles to missing crossword clues (one of the biggest bugbears, after spelling and grammar).
When these are a bit thin on the ground, which does happen occasionally, because — let's be honest — the Bel Tel has always taken ethics seriously, then this biteen of a column can turn to media issues generally.
This week, the interests of readers and the issue of media matters collided rather directly in the form of an attack by masked rioters on one of our journalists. Being Readers’ Editor doesn't just mean holding our staff to account — although that is a critically important element. In my opinion, the safety of our reporters is also of direct interest to readers.
In fact, I know this directly from our postbag and the messages of support and disgust on our website following the attack on reporter Adrian Rutherford.
In case you missed it, Adrian was menaced, jostled and had his phone stolen on the lower Newtownards Road on Monday night.
He wasn't hurt, but something struck him in the side during the attack — whether a fist or a rock he is not sure, as bricks were raining down all around.
We reported the incident at Strandtown PSNI station the next day.
The police don't hold out much hope of a prosecution, which is understandable, if unfortunate.
The attack on Adrian is the third incident involving a journalist in as many weeks (very likely there have been others, unreported).
A bomb was left outside the home of a Press photographer and another photographer sustained head and other injuries during a riot at Belfast City |Hall.
In June 2011, a Press Association photographer was shot in the leg while covering rioting in east Belfast.
I list these incidents again for a reason.
It is that, in a recent court judgment in Belfast, a judge ruled against Press photographers facing a police ‘production order’.
He instructed them to hand over certain images of riots and also the pre-riot footage.
The judge rejected the media's argument that to do so would imperil both the safety and impartiality of journalists, saying there was no evidence of serious risk.
Obviously, the judge could not see into the future, but since his ruling, these serious incidents should, in my opinion, fatally undermine this argument (which, incidentally, was also, in my opinion, positively engaged by Mr Justice Eady in the so-called ‘Dale Farm’ judgment earlier this year).
The people who brave our mean streets to bring you the news deserve our full support and protection.