Belfast Telegraph

Police use of riot film 'dangerous'

Journalists could be put at risk by increased police demands for access to media footage from riots, Northern Ireland's main news organisations have claimed.

After the courts ordered media groups to hand over images from recent riots in east Belfast, editors have written to Chief Constable Matt Baggott expressing fears over the dangers of police "fishing expeditions".

They recognised the important work of security forces, but said officers had on one occasion sought press footage from disturbances before they had viewed more than 70 hours of their own video.

The news groups expressed concern at the "increased use of indiscriminate applications" to court for access to media material and said it "threatens the good relations" between the press and the police.

"The undersigned have a genuine fear that terrorists and rioters will target the media whom they perceive to be evidence gatherers for the state, however involuntary that role might be," said the letter.

"Even in recent weeks we have seen one photo-journalist injured by a bullet and a cameraman provide evidence in court that a bullet passed through his trousers and that he believed the media were being deliberately targeted whilst covering civil disturbances in Northern Ireland."

The news groups said society as a whole would suffer if safety concerns forced media organisations to stop sending journalists to report on riots.

"None of the undersigned have any desire to obstruct legitimate evidence gathering or policing, nor do anything that would harm the prosecution process or would endanger public safety.

"However, we do believe that senior officers within the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) need to understand the damage that the increased frequency and broader scope of such applications does to the public perception of news organisations as being independent and impartial and, therefore, to the safety of our staff."

The groups said police should only seek access to media images through the courts as a last resort when video gathered by officers has been reviewed and found to be deficient.

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