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NUJ warns that press freedom is at risk as Northern Irish police take legal action to intercept riot footage

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By The Drum Team, Editorial

December 12, 2011 | 2 min read

Union leaders have spoken out about their belief that the freedom of the press is at risk.

General secretary for the National Union of Journalists Michelle Stanistreet has said that members of the union has been ‘attacked’ and that danger to journalists while reporting was on the rise and that press freedom was under ‘attack’.

The comments were made after Matt Baggott, chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, began legal action against the BBC and UTV, to have them hand over video footage of riots that took place in Derry.

The NUJ has condemned the move to force the media to supply footage to police, claiming that they are putting journalists in danger by forcing them to hand over evidence to police.

“Journalists play a critical role in informing the public and covering civil unrest is already difficult. Our members have been attacked whilst doing their jobs. The danger increases if the footage gathered whilst reporting events is seized and used by the police. It is an attack on press freedom and turns photographers, videographers and journalists into potential targets,” commented Stanistreet.

NUJ Irish Secretary Séamus Dooley added: "The NUJ has consistently resisted attempts to undermine the right of journalists to protect sources of information. It is regrettable that yet again the PSNI is embarking on a course of action which not only undermines that right but could put journalists in danger. Media workers are engaged in a professional activity which is independent of the security forces and they should never be seen as collectors of information for the police."

Under the NUJ’s code of conduct, it is stated: “Protects the identity of sources who supply information in confidence and material gathered in the course of her/his work.”

The legal action taken by the PSNI follows its attempts to order the media to hand over footage of riots in East Belfast in July, while in September, the English courts forced media organisations to supply Police with footage of riots and photographs of rioting across England.

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