A Right to Report?

Should we really be talking of a Right to Report? In general terms, that's exactly what's needed. But specific talk of special rights for journalists raises some complex questions. It implies a legal definition of who is a journalist. The NUJ has traditionally resisted this: it sees journalists as workers, not as a legally-constituted profession like doctors or architects.

We've traditionally been suspicious of more legalistic systems. In France, for example, the Commission de la Carte decides who has the legal status of a journalist. It includes representatives of the unions, the bosses - and the government.

Should we then talk about a right for every citizen to report? That opens up a whole new discussion - which is why we have meetings. To kick it off, here's a motion from LFB to the union's Annual Delegate Meeting (ADM).

This ADM notes that difficulties in reporting events in places accessible to the public continue. It it particularly concerned by reports of events around a banned Romany fair in Horsmandean, Kent and at a protest against deportation of asylum-seekers at Heathrow Airport in September 2000, according to which journalists' efforts to report were obstructed by them being detained.

ADM believes that fair and accurate reporting of political and social activity - especially, perhaps, of protest and fringe events - is essential to any conception of a democracy. ADM notes that this depends upon journalists, including photographers, having unhindered access to such events.

ADM is particularly concerned that the growing privatisation of places accessible to the public - airports, railway stations and shopping centres for example - encourages arbitrary, often capricious and absolutely unaccountable restrictions.

ADM believes that both a bottom-up and a top-down approach are required. It applauds, for example, the efforts of the Union's representative on the Press Card committee to publicise the existence and workings of the card through posters placed in police stations. It believes that additional effort is required to reach individual police officers - and, indeed, private security personnel - directly.

ADM therefore instructs the NEC to:

1) Seek and finance additional imaginative means of raising awareness of the Press Card among all those who need to recognise it;

2) Discuss with police forces the possibility of including information on the needs and role of independent reporters in all public order training;

3) Discuss with the Association of Chief Police Officers the inclusion of respect for the right to report in Forces' mission statements and similar policy documents;

4) Continue and strengthen the Union's campaign against the seizure of press photographs, which puts photographers at risk from protesters whose belief that reporters act as agents of the police is thereby justified;

5) Actively publicise instances of obstruction of the right to report, ensuring that any attempts to suppress reporting backfire by generating increased publicity; and

6) Initiate discussions with a wide range of political and campaign groups about the privatisation of public space and possible means to protect public rights, including the rights of journalists to report to the public.

What do you think? If you are an LFB member and feel this motion should be amended, come to the January meeting. (It is not now procedurally possible to add, in the jargon, widely new matter.)

Last modified: 12 December 2000 - © 2000 contributors
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