The war on photographers

Police assault news photographer.Photo Marc Vallée/ (c) Marc Vallée, 2008.Since the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City western, First World, democratic nations that normally believe in rights and freedoms for its citizens and media have slipped in a “War on Photographers” along with the highly marketed War on Terror.

The United States and Great Britain have numerous documented cases of overzealous police and state security personnel detaining, threatening and arresting photographers, both professional and amateur, for taking pictures in public places. There have been few noted cases in Canada. Any Google search for photographers and police will turn up thousands of incidents.

The most ludicrous was when the New York transit authority held a photo contest sending hundreds of photographers in the subway system looking for the winning photo only to be harassed and arrested by transit authority police under supposed anti-terrorist laws. They then attempted, and failed, to get a law passed banning photography on their subway system.

In a story, “Warning: Do not take this picture,” in the UK-based The Independent this week says that legislators there are telling the police to ease up and use more discretion when dealing with photographers on the street.

Speaking to The Independent, Lord Carlile of Berriew said:

“The police have to be very careful about stopping people who are taking what I would call leisure photographs, and indeed professional photographers. The fact that someone is taking photographs is not prima facie a good reason for stop and search and is very far from raising suspicion. It is a matter of concern and the police will know that they have to look at this very carefully.”

The Independent report states:

“Lord Carlile’s comments come just days after a BBC journalist was stopped and searched by two police community support officers as he took photographs of St Paul’s Cathedral. Days earlier Andrew White, 33, was stopped and asked to give his name and address after taking photographs of Christmas lights on his way to work in Brighton.

“And in July Alex Turner, an amateur photographer from Kent, was arrested after he took pictures of Mick’s Plaice, a fish and chip shop in Chatham.”

The article continues:

“Marc Vallee, a photojournalist who specializes in documenting protests, has become so exasperated at how often photographers are questioned or searched by officers that he has co-founded a campaign group to keep tabs on how public photography is being policed. The “I’m a photographer, not a terrorist’ campaign group now has more than 4,000 supporters and has held a number of protests, including outside Scotland Yard, to highlight what they believe is the growing harassment of amateur and professional photographers by police and over-zealous council officials.

“‘Why is the act of taking a picture deemed by the state to be so potentially threatening? Photography is not a crime but it is being routinely criminalized,’he said. ‘Anti-terrorism legislation talks about creating a hostile environment for terrorists to operate but the reality is that it is creating a hostile environment for public photography. That has an incredibly detrimental effect on freedom of speech.'”

Check out I’m a photographer, not a terrorist. by Jason N. Parkinson