Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Section 76

Sunday 15th February saw the controversial Section 76 of the 2008 Terrorism Act come into force and this will "allow for the arrest and imprisonment of anyone who takes pictures of police officers that are likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism."

Put simply this is the single most blatant attempt to curtail the freedom of the press since the police gained the power to seize unpublished photographs from instances of public disorder in the nineteen-eighties.

Aside of the fact that the words "likely to be useful" are impossibly vague to begin with, we have to face additional reality that all previous powers conferred on the police and/or local government have been regularly and flagrantly abused in respect of anti terrorism legislation. 

Several recent dreadful examples can be found in this BJP article and I myself have been stopped a questioned while taking a picture for a commercial client of their London buildings. 

In my case, explaining that I had been commissioned and was being paid to take pictures of the London landmark brought no measure of understanding from the two officers (not pictured above!) but ironically was allowed to continue after I produced my press card. 

Nowadays a press card is likely to get you about as much respect as a mink coat so I had been reticent in producing it and frankly, I was not personally harassed, arrested or seriously inconvenienced but mine is not a typical encounter.

Those most affected by the implementation of Section 76 are obviously working press photographers who come into contact wit the police and armed forces on a regular basis. They already face difficult working conditions in that the police they deal with are mostly ignorant of the law with regards to photographers rights and frequently fall back on anti-terrorism legislation in even the most benign of situations.

But there are another group who may be strongly affected; street photographers. For some, the act of documenting life's spontaneous drama and humour is not only a professional endeavor but part of the rich photographic heritage of this country.

Brilliant British street photographer Nick Turpin has made a simple eloquent video about this issue and the thought that his brand of incisive photographic wit might be stifled by this pointless piece of scare-mongering nonsense is  just too depressing for words.

Here is the video and I urge you to take a look at the work of all the photographers that contribute to iN-PUBLiC and realise what is so needlessly being put in jeopardy.

Photographers Rights UK from Nick Turpin on Vimeo.

Then write to your MP and contribute to the democratic process of amending this law.


Vincent said...

Hi Justin, this act is horrendous!! Great that you guys stood up against it in a very cool way. I work in Spain myself and always have to be really careful photographing in public. There could be either a kid in the pic or -god help- a uniform of different police forces. Although here a press card still impresses, taking you in for whatever reason is always an option.

I hope we are able to unite worldwide against this terrorist-act of taking away freedom of press

Cheers Vincent

Justin Sutcliffe said...

Thank you Vincent.

There will undoubtedly be more to come on this issue. If we as a society give up the very things that we are defending, what is the point in fighting?