Belfast Telegraph

Media fears over riot footage

Journalists could be seen to be police evidence gatherers if they are forced to hand over unseen footage of last month's rioting in Belfast, a court has heard.

Lawyers for news organisations resisting the PSNI's legal bid to compel them to produce unbroadcast and unedited material claimed it could have a "chilling effect", with a heightened risk to the safety of camera crews and reporters.

Opposition was set out as a judge was told material released by the media following a similar application after disorder last summer was crucial in 15 successful prosecutions.

Police are seeking footage and photographs from broadcasters and news agencies of the violence in parts of north and west Belfast on July 11 and 12.

The case centres on competing claims between the public interest in convicting troublemakers and the threat to freedom of the Press.

A detective sergeant in charge of co-ordinating evidence gathering told a court in Belfast the requested, unbroadcast footage was likely to be of substantial value.

He said people have provided information in the past after similar material was shown.

The detective estimated that police have less than 10 hours of their own footage, and claimed that recorded by news organisations may be of better quality.

He told the court CCTV recordings from a PSNI helicopter of a hijacked and burning car rolling into a crowd of people at Ardoyne was of poor evidential value.

According to his assessment, Press gathered at the scene may have better quality images of the incident.

Counsel for the PSNI urged Judge Piers Grant to rule in favour of the interest in securing convictions and order production of the material.

But a lawyer for the BBC argued that handing over the unseen footage may increase the risk to the safety of news crews.

"That may impede the ability of an organisation such as the BBC to inform the population about what is going on in the streets of the city," he said.

"There is the safety issue in terms of journalists themselves, and the chilling effect these orders may have."

He added that there was a fear broadcasters could be seen as becoming "auxiliary evidence gatherers for the police".

A lawyer for UTV, which also opposed the application, argued his client did not want to be filming events "as an arm of the state".

"There remains a fear that cameramen and journalists might be perceived as collecting on behalf of the police in the future," he said.

After hearing from both sides Judge Grant reserved his decision.

Officers were attacked with petrol and paint bombs in three nights of rioting from July 11. Police responded with water cannon and baton rounds. Hijacked vehicles were set on fire and thousands of pounds of damage caused to property. More than 40 officers were injured.

Belfast Telegraph


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