The police and me - a news photographer's perspective
The intricate dance between the police and news gatherers is a nuanced and ever-changing one. This delicate interplay, particularly between a police officer and a press photographer, offers fascinating insights and dynamics worth delving into. Speaking from the perspective of a seasoned news photographer, I regularly encounter the police during my typical workday.
My usual haunt, Downing Street, warrants multiple security checks and continual police surveillance, especially for those of us in the press pen. Despite this, my rapport with these officers is exceptional, and I can say I am on a first-name basis with most of them. As a decade-long regular, I have a thorough understanding of the explicit as well as implicit rules, including the appropriate conduct and collaborative methods. I also respect and appreciate the vital role these officers play in securing the street and 'the house', as 10 Downing Street is affectionately known.
Locally, my interaction with the Essex Police, though sporadic, occurs either at incidents or formal events. I aspire to foster a stronger relationship with this police force, yet certain impediments might make this challenging.
While some might contest my insights, it's crucial to understand that everyone, irrespective of their position, will have varying experiences, both positive and negative. From my vantage point, I've had predominantly pleasant encounters. However, I am cognizant of some press photographers who have had contrasting experiences. Most UK police officers I cross paths with exhibit a decent understanding of our role; nonetheless, some express marked antipathy towards the press.
In comparison to yesteryears, the relationship has seen a stark transformation. Instances of certain officers trading crime scene information or access to journalists for favours or 'a drink' are a thing of the past. Today, the College of Policing issues comprehensive guidelines for the police concerning press interactions, and we, the press, are obliged to follow "The Editors Code". Most national press photographers I interact with exhibit a strong ethical compass and discern when the lawful option may not be the morally correct one.
Broad generalizations often invite criticism, yet I believe that the majority of professional news photographers comprehend the intricacies and challenges of contemporary policing. Unfortunately, a small minority does not. For those of us operating in Downing Street, there's a palpable fear that the misconduct of a few could restrict access and create hurdles for the majority. When it comes to police officers, a handful display an understanding and appreciation of our role in news generation. The majority, however, exhibit indifference coupled with suspicion, while a small fraction is explicitly anti-press.
The situation is made worse by “citizen journalist” and so called “auditors” who follow no professional code or standards and sometime go out of their way to antagonise the police in order to get a reaction.
Discussing the practicalities of our job, we news photographers understand that our presence at a crime scene or incident often attracts attention, frequently unwanted. We might unintentionally exacerbate an already challenging situation for the police by our mere presence, or we could obstruct the officers in performing their duties. I have faced accusations of jeopardizing an investigation, although the specifics always eluded me. It's undeniable that the press's presence alters the dynamics of police operations. The pressing issue for us often lies in discerning what exactly transpired or is still unfolding. For instance, at a major crime scene in Brentwood involving the tragic demise of two young men, I had to report it as a serious incident, resisting local rumours of murder. As a responsible news gatherer, I adhere strictly to reporting facts, not speculation.
Now, one may ask, what are the potential benefits for the police when press attends these incidents? Primarily, we report factual, unbiased information about the situation. The concept of "policing by consent" in the UK emphasizes an informed public that comprehends the actions and motivations of the police. Therefore, sound journalism serves as a counterbalance to the often misleading and sensational citizen journalism prevalent on social media. Regrettably, the decline of local newspapers and media outlets has adversely impacted factual reporting on local policing.
The future holds the significant challenge of building trust between the police and news gatherers. Perfect trust remains elusive due to the underlying complexities and suspicions on both sides. The police must persist in their impartial and fair conduct, while journalists must maintain their critical independence. The two sides may approach each other, but convergence is unlikely. Just a single incident can disrupt trust and fuel suspicions. Recent arrests of press photographers at the Just Stop Oil demonstrations are a case in point. Conversely, certain news photographers exploit their role for personal political gains, undermining the neutrality that should characterize news gathering. Both sides display flaws, a situation unlikely to change. Indeed, this relationship is symbiotic. The press relies on the police for information and stories, and conversely, the police need the press to validate their role and facilitate "policing by consent". The national and, to a lesser extent, the local press must counterbalance the hysteria and misinformation rampant on social media. The scales are delicately poised.
In conclusion, the symbiosis between law enforcement and the free press in the United Kingdom largely functions well. However, both sides need to appreciate the priorities, complexities, and demands of each other. Trust-building remains a crucial area that necessitates concerted effort