May the Force not be against you...

JUST ONE London Freelance Branch observer made it to the "May Day Monopoly" events. Partly, this was due to inefficiency - and partly reticence about dragging colleagues into whatever mayhem the Evening Standard was promising.

Members with the Belfast NUJ banner, May Day 2001

May Day in Belfast was rather different from London. It was celebrated with an Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) anti-racist rally, followed by the May Day march and a concert against racism in St. George's Market. The May Day festival in St George's market was organised by ICTU in association with the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities, on the theme "towards an anti-racist society". NUJ activists from Belfast and District branch and Northern Ireland Broadcasting branch carried the NUJ banner on the ICTU May Day march in Belfast (above).


So your intrepid observer set out, post-collywobbles, to discover that the most significant thing happening was nothing, and lots of it. After getting inured to the Apocalypse Now helicopter soundtrack, it became clear that a huge swathe of London's West End was quieter than 5am on a Sunday. Half the capitalism had disappeared behind plywood, too. Associated Newspapers certainly lay on a very effective Stop the City action when they put their mind to it.

Back at the barricades, your observer was able to help several journalists carrying NUJ-issued press cards through reluctant police lines. He tried (a bit) for the two carrying cards issued by the News of the World, too, and failed.

Reporters and photographers said that police had largely been unobstructive earlier in the day. It is clear that what works is to approach the most senior officer you can find - who's more likely to remember whatever briefing they've had than the others. That's their job.

And what works with them is a negotiation between professionals. To the colleague who brandishes the back of the press card uttering "Es is hier geschreibt...„ - sorry, "It is written here that this is recognised by the Metropolitan Police" - if England ever acquires a culture of rights rather than favours it's going to take decades longer than in Scotland or Wales.

Clearly, more needs to be done to make non-commanding police aware of the press card. In the long run we have to establish that supporting the right to report is part of their job. And we have to keep making the point that supporting prosecutions is not part of our job, and we'll do all we can to resist and avoid handing over films. (The Freelance hasn't yet heard of any serious aggro from demonstrators toward journalists on the day. So do tell...)

Members of the Branch are very welcome to volunteer as "press freedom observers" for future events. Current police tactics for demonstrations mean it would be good to have a lot of observers. At one point on May Day there were at least 20 police cordons around Oxford Street.

For reasons outside the NUJ's control, getting a Press Card takes several weeks from your application to join. So do it now.

Last modified: 6 May 2001 - © 2001 contributors
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