Policing of the G20 Protests - Home Affairs Committee Contents

2  Relations with the Media

5. The importance of an unencumbered media, free to report on large-scale events like the G20 Protests, is self-evident, not just as an end in itself but because a good relationship between the media and the police can be mutually beneficial. As ACC Duncan McCausland of the Police Service of Northern Ireland told us:

We have found it far easier, in effect to help the media do their job and the media work with us in terms of what we are trying to achieve on the day, because the media are part of the community and part of potentially providing a win-win situation and a compromise.[4]

6. It is clear from ACC McCausland's comments that good relations with the media before, during and after large-scale events should be viewed by the police as a valuable resource and therefore a high priority. While we were told that the Metropolitan Police values good relations with the media because "it is in our interests that things are reported accurately"[5] we question whether during the G20 Protests this really was the case. We have received evidence which has suggested that during the G20 Protests (and similar events at Kingsnorth) the police have not been as diligent as could be expected in building good relations with members of the press. We were particularly concerned to hear allegations of:

  • A lack of communications between police and journalists prior to, and during the protests;
  • Ignorance, or at least non-application, of the ACPO Guidelines on this area; and
  • The use of Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 against journalists.

However, we saw little evidence that members of the press were specifically "targeted",[6] as has been implied in the newspapers and as Jeremy Dear told us. We accept that because of the nature of the work of journalists and the situations in which they place themselves, a certain amount of what has been called "collateral damage" is to be expected. We have been told that the number of claims lodged by the NUJ after the G20 Protests is proportionally the same as at similar events,[7] which suggests to us that there was no specific, systematic effort on behalf of the police to target journalists or prevent them going about their business.


7. The police said that they value relationships with the media and invest a large amount of effort in facilitating journalist's needs; Sir Hugh Orde told us explicitly that "we brief before, we brief during and we brief after".[8] In practice this means that at any large public demonstration in Northern Ireland, "the media have our contact points in terms of our press officer … and facilitation can be made to facilitate the media where it is operationally feasible to move them around"[9] and all officers are briefed on the "handling of the media" on the day of the events.[10] According to Sir Hugh Orde, during the policing of public protest in Northern Ireland, the police's objectives are clear, "everyone knowing what is going to happen as best you can".[11]

8. We do not doubt that this was the aim of the Metropolitan Police Service prior to, and during the G20 Protests, in the run-up to the policing of the G20 there appears to have been a 'capabilities-expectations' gap between the police's intentions and what actually occurred. Mr Dear told us that, while a briefing was given to members of the media, it was concentrated on those journalists representing large media organisations such as the BBC. There was not a briefing with the vast majority of, usually freelance, journalists who planned to attend the protests.[12] Equally, it seems that the briefing was not then disseminated among the rank-and-file police officers. Mr Dear complained about a lack of consistency in police actions, with some officers respecting the rights of the press and others not understanding the rights and responsibilities implicit on the police in these situations.[13] We were told that that lower ranked officers also seemed unaware of the presence of a designated contact point or were unwilling to refer any issues regarding press access to more senior officers.

ACPO Guidelines

9. There are already ACPO Guidelines in this area. As Jeremy Dear told us:

There is a set of guidelines drawn up by ACPO … that are meant to govern access requirements, what are the rights and responsibilities of journalists and, in particular, photographers and camera crew when they are covering public order incidents. The problem is too few of the officers on the front line say they have heard of them, know how to implement them, [or] recognise the press card.[14]

Commander Broadhurst commented that, "when there is a disorderly situation they [journalists] have no more right than the ordinary citizen to come through all our cordons"[15]—an apparent contradiction of the ACPO Guidelines which state: "We [the police] should actively help them carry out their responsibilities provided they do not interfere with ours."[16] Leaving aside the question of how "disorderly" the protests really were and remembering that the ACPO Guidelines are not binding, we are concerned that this attitude from senior officers goes a long way to explaining the somewhat dismissive attitudes of front-line officers to the press. Police relations with the media is not an issue of guidelines, but is instead one of training and briefing

10. We accept that it is not possible for all officers on front-line duty, some of whom may be inexperienced in this line of work, to know, understand and fully implement the ACPO Guidelines, particularly in a high tension environment like the G20 Protests. However, we cannot understand why those officers who were unable to communicate with journalists were not willing or able to pass this problem on to a more experienced officer. We suggest that at the heart of most communication difficulties encountered by journalists is a lack of leadership on the ground and an inadequate briefing before the protests.

11. At the very least all officers should be aware of the existence of a designated media contact point, who is trained in basic communication with journalists and able to give correct information on request. It seems to us that some members of the media experienced a broken chain of command and ignorance on the part of the police which impaired their ability to do their jobs.

12. It was not only the behaviour of individuals which hindered communications with the media, but failings in the systems and structure put in place. Commander Broadhurst assured us that he made every effort to communicate with officers on the frontline and remind them of their responsibilities to the media but he also admitted that "we need a better way of communicating to the officers at the front of the cordons"[17] and that a "message takes a long, long time to get down to the front line".[18] Aside from reiterating the need for better briefings before protests, so limiting the need for subsequent communication, this highlights the lack of real devolution of responsibility to those on the ground.

13. We accept the difficulties implicit in briefing freelance journalists, some of whom may not wish to be contacted by the police prior to an event, and to some extent we sympathise with the Metropolitan Police who appear to be keen to improve relations in this area. However, more must be done. While accepting that it is not possible to brief every journalist who wishes to attend large public protests, and that at the G20 Protests budgetary and time constraints prevented every officer from being adequately briefed beforehand on "handling the media", we propose two relatively simple solutions which could be implemented at little cost.

14. Since it is to everyone's benefit that the relationship between the police and journalists is clear and codified, we suggest that the briefings given to members of the media before public protests be published on the website of the police and the National Union of Journalists prior to the event. While there may be operational reasons why a complete brief cannot be published, we are surprised that a version of this information is not made public already. In this way anyone who is planning to attend a public protest in a media capacity will have the ability to receive a briefing in this area and at the very least be assured that a media contact point will be available on the day. We urge the police to consider this action.

15. Equally, we cannot understand why experienced officers on the ground were not granted a degree of discretion in how the police strategies were enacted. While we accept that communications between the control centre and the front-line can always be improved, we are yet to be convinced of the absolute necessity of why a relatively simple message like "please let them out if they are bona fide press" needed to be sent from the Gold Commander, who presumably had many other more pressing matters to concern him.

16. We recommend that in its promised review of police tactics on public order situations HMIC looks at the command structure at big events and considers the benefits of allowing experienced officers on the ground the power to make relatively simple, non-controversial decisions such as these. As far as possible, power should be devolved to officers on the ground authorised to react to changing situations.

The use of Section 14 and non-identification of officers

17. Section 14 of the Public Order Act gives the senior police officer discretion to end or limit protests where this may be "necessary to prevent disorder, damage, disruption or intimidation" and the protest continuing "may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community".[19] The use of this power against journalists, coupled with the non-identification of officers. typifies the somewhat contradictory attitude of the police towards the press during the G20 protests. Both actions suggest, rightly or wrongly, that the police felt that they had something to hide. This is a dangerous perception to foster, particularly as, "The reality is, as every officer should be fully aware whether or not the press are there, cameras are now everywhere."[20]

18. This was borne out in the footage of force used against, among others Nicola Fisher and tragically, Ian Tomlinson—this footage was almost instantly uploaded onto the internet and transmitted around the world. The police's actions in each case may or may not be justifiable but they were certainly shocking. Actions which may appear justifiable in the cold light of day can be extremely troubling when relayed instantaneously around the globe. While these images provide only one, possibly misleading viewpoint[21], they undeniably have power to shake the public's confidence in the police and negatively affect their perception of the performance of the police at the G20.

19. The police must be aware that, as a matter of course, their actions will be filmed whether or not journalists are present. They must amend their attitude and tactics accordingly. The police should be aware that in the modern world actions which may be justifiable under the rules may nonetheless be completely unacceptable.

20. Both at the G20 Protests and the protest at Kingsnorth Power Station in Kent the police have used Section 14 of the Public Order Act to disperse journalists. We heard from Jeremy Dear that Section 14 was used in an apparently pre-meditated fashion to remove journalists from an area, rather than as a response to "serious public disorder".[22] We will return to general questions on the use of Section 14 later, but if, as Jeremy Dear alleged, it was used in this fashion then it would clearly be a misuse of powers granted to the police. The fact that the police have in both cases apologised does not excuse the fact that forcing members of the press to leave an area without justification sends out completely the wrong signal of the police's intentions and does not help the police build strong relationships with the media. For this reason alone the misuse of Section 14 must be addressed.

21. This impression was reinforced by the fact that some officers were seen not wearing their identification numbers. According to Nick Hardwick, this is an "absolute obligation"[23] on the part of the police and Sir Paul Stephenson called it a "statement of the blindingly obvious. Uniformed officers should always be identifiable"[24]. We accept that there are, in some cases, justifiable reasons for police not to wear their identification[25], and that the numbers of officers involved may have been exaggerated,[26] but the impression given is still clear and worrying:

Certainly, in the public order work, we are aware of the implications of officers not being identified, because it gives the impression that they are trying to cover up their actions, which is clearly wrong.[27]

22. We echo Sir Paul Stephenson's comments: in many ways the problem for the police in these situations is not their actual actions, but the perception that they are seeking to avoid accountability for these actions. We are therefore surprised that the problems of identification posed when officers change into protective equipment have not been addressed before and recommend more funding specifically for solutions in this area.

23. Senior officers must take personal responsibility for ensuring that all officers are displaying their identification numbers and the individual officer must be provided with enough numbers so that these can be worn at all times and on all equipment. It would be helpful if the Home Office and Metropolitan Police would let us know the length of time it takes between the ordering of a new identification badge and this badge being delivered to the individual officer. It is unacceptable for officers not to wear identification numbers at such events; this must be a matter of the highest priority. We urge that any officers found to be deliberately removing their identification face the strongest possible disciplinary measures and the police must make every effort to be identifiable at all times.

4   Q277 Back

5   Q396 Back

6   Q57 Back

7   Q55 Back

8   Q278 Back

9   Q279 Back

10   Q283 Back

11   Q278 Back

12   Q70 Back

13   Q69. Back

14   Q56. Back

15   Q396 Back

16   Guidelines for Metropolitan Police Service Staff on dealing with media reporters, press photographers and television crews. Back

17   Q393. Back

18   Ibid. Back

19   The full act can be found at: http://www.statutelaw.gov.uk/content.aspx?activeTextDocId=2236942 Back

20   Q280 Back

21   Q249. Back

22   Q66 Back

23   Q48 Back

24   Q336. Back

25   Q361. Back

26   Ibid. Back

27   Q361. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 29 June 2009