Belfast Telegraph

In times of conflict the Press must retain neutrality

By Paul Connolly

A key pillar of media freedom is the ability to report conflict without harassment. The definition of conflict can be a wide term, covering, for example, strikes and neighbourhood disputes, as well as the more obvious civil disturbances, terrorism and war.

Media groups in Northern Ireland have, in recent times, come under quite significant pressure from the PSNI over the issue of so-called ‘Police Production Orders’.

This is where the police demand access to images of conflict which have never been broadcast, or edited.

Last week, the Belfast Telegraph received one relating to Derry-Londonderry Olympic Torch disturbances.

In my opinion, it’s a bit of a fishing expedition, as many images of the clash are already in the public domain.

Now, you might think it’s entirely reasonable that the police would wish to look at images of disorder to apprehend law-breakers.

On the surface, it would appear simple.

But I would contend that a bigger issue is at play; that journalists could be viewed as an arm of the state and could be exposed to attacks, which would impede genuine newsgathering.

It’s a complex issue, which involves competing freedoms.

But a reasonably useful balance was struck by Mr Justice Eady, adjudicating at the High Court in London on May 19 on a production order relating to the ‘Dale Farm’ conflict.

“It is the neutrality of the Press which affords them protection and augments their ability freely to obtain and disseminate visual recording of events,” he said.

As it happens, Belfast Telegraph employees did not record pictures of the Olympic torch disturbances.

But our policy will remain that we will not hand over images unless and until compelled by court order.

  • OUCH. The wrong sudoku and puzzle was used last Saturday. This was caused by a technical glitch, compounded by human error. An investigation is under way. Sincere apologies.
  • OUCH again. That one was the sound of our wrists being slapped by reader Carol Rusk for referring to the Queen as “HRH” in a headline.

As Carol correctly points out, the Tele was guilty of the same ‘sin' as the BBC during the Jubilee celebrations in using the wrong title.

In the UK the Queen is known as Her Majesty (or HM) — HRH is for princes and princesses, including Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. I’ve reminded all reporters and sub-editors of the correct use.

Incidentally, in the Royal title stakes, Royal Highness apparently ranks below Imperial Highness, but above Grand Ducal Highness, Highness and Serene Highness.

So now you know.

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