Police officers at the main entrance to Dale farm

Dale Farm riot: Essex police want media organisations to hand over two days of footage

Credit: Chris Radburn/PA

A group of broadcasters and a freelance video journalist are waiting to hear the outcome of a High Court judicial review over a court order forcing them to hand over footage of the Dale Farm travellers' site disorder in Essex.

High Court judges Lord Justice Moses and Mr Justice Eady yesterday reserved judgment in the case and will give a decision at a later date as to whether the production orders, sought by Essex police, are lawful and proportionate.

The orders were made at Chelmsford crown court in February against the BBC, ITN, BSkyB, independent producer Hardcash Productions and freelance video journalist Jason Parkinson. Police want to obtain two days of footage from the evictions at Dale Farm, near Basildon, last October, on the grounds that they believe the material will assist their investigation.

The broadcasters won a judicial review last month. Gavin Millar QC, representing the media organisations, told the High Court in London yesterday that there was "great concern" that seizing journalists' footage would put reporters at risk - because they would be "regarded as doing the police's job for them".

He said the orders were excessive and interfered with the media's right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said in a release: "The NUJ welcomes the decision to allow the judicial review to proceed. The media played a critical public interest role in reporting on Dale Farm and the case will have significant implications for the whole of our industry.

"Journalists are put in danger if footage gathered whilst reporting events is seized and used by the police. The NUJ's code of conduct compels the union - and our members - to defend a vital principle, the protection of journalistic sources and material.

"This case is a defence of press freedom - journalists are not evidence gatherers for the police."

Freelance journalist Jason Parkinson added: "Since November 2010, the storming of the Conservative headquarters at Millbank, we have seen a dramatic increase in the use of production orders. Every public order incident since then, one news outlet or another has had the proverbial knock at the door.

"Coincidentally the increase in production orders happened at the same time police and press relations seemed to improve on the ground. Gaining passage through police cordons was no longer a problem. Press cards were being respected.

"Overt surveillance by Forward Intelligence Teams seemed to stop. It was almost as if they wanted us there.

"On Tuesday 1 November 2011 I received an email from Essex police stating I was being served an order to obtain all my footage from the first two days of the Dale Farm eviction. That came 38 minutes after a separate email from Essex police press office asking to use my footage for "training purposes". They even offered me a visit to their in-house television unit.

"The union's own code of conduct lists the protection of sources and all journalistic material as a fundamental part of journalist ethics and in turn a fundamental part of our democracy. The ability to report free from state interference and indeed report on the state and hold them to account is the corner stone of what makes our democracy.

"When this was raised at Chelmsford Crown Court during the application hearing, prosecuting counsel said I held a 'very extreme view' for defending that code of conduct. Butt it's not just the NUJ or myself, claiming to be holding these extreme views. Across the board - Sky News, the BBC and ITN - all have said enough is enough with these fishing exercises.

"The full extent of the increase in production orders is not known because all current investigations into the issue are met with the same response. Labour MP John McDonnell has repeatedly tabled parliamentary questions to the Secretary of State and, as with a recent Freedom of Information request to ACPO, the response is always the same - the information is not recorded or collected centrally.

"That is why I have opposed this production order and stood to uphold the NUJ Code of Conduct and protect all journalist sources and all material."

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