Hertfordshire’s police and crime commissioner (PCC) has admitted that they “may have got it wrong” arresting journalists and a documentary filmmaker, but then questioned if it is right to provide protesters with the “oxygen of publicity.”
Documentary filmmaker Rich Felgate and press photographer Tom Bowles were legally filming the Just Stop Oil protesters.
The pair who told the police, which fell on deaf ears that they have no affiliation with the group and they did inform them that they are press, but alas they were arrested, handcuffed and taken into custody for simply doing their jobs.
Bowles said that three police officers had searched his home were his wife and 14-year old daughter were woken up during the night.
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LBC journalist Charlotte Lynch was also covering the protesters and was arrested and she said that the cop literally “banged on the handcuffs.”
The British Press Photographers’ Association (BPPA) said it “strongly condemns” the arrests.
The BPPA added, “News gatherers should be able to operate freely without fear of arrest.”
Speaking on BBC Three Counties Radio and LBC Radio on Thursday the PCC David Lloyd said, he is “certain that there was no reason to arrest them” and “I think we got it wrong.”
But he then questioned journalists and said they should be “thinking about” if it is correct to provide the protesters with “oxygen of publicity.”
He told LBC’s Nick Ferrari, “I think we’ve just got to ask ourselves as a society if we are handling the Just Stop Oil appropriately by giving them the oxygen of publicity.”
Ferrari insisted what is happening with Just Stop Oil protests on the M25 is “news” which is in the public interest.
Ferrari said, “I put it to you that you are far better versed in police affairs than I am, but perhaps in the news business I might just have the edge.
“This is news – if you close vast tracks of a 116-mile orbital road because of one particular protest… that’s what we in the business call news.”
Lloyd replied, “The question I’m pushing back to you is that fine line between reporting the news and making the news and whether or not that is crossed on occasion by reporting it in such a sensational way.
“I recognise it’s news, I recognise it’s interesting. But it would similarly be news if a vast portion of an orbital motorway were closed because someone was trying to commit suicide.
“We wouldn’t be – you wouldn’t be reporting that in the same way, and I just think you need to think about it.
“I’m not saying anyone should have any control over it, I’m very much up for a free press, but I just think that voluntarily you should be thinking about how do we report that.”
Lloyd continued, “I support the role of a responsible free press being an essential pillar of a democratic society.
“While I am not involved in operational matters, policing these incidents is a very challenging and complex task.
“The public rightly expect the police to uphold the law and prevent widespread disruption affecting many thousands of motorists.
“I am speaking to the chief constable to obtain more information about the circumstances of these arrests to obtain the complete picture.”
The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak waded in saying that it is “vital” journalists are able to do their job freely, “without restriction.”
Hertfordshire Constabulary Chief Constable Charlie Hall said that he “recognises the concerns” over journalists being arrested for legally reporting.
The Chief Constable added, “Additional measures are now in place to ensure that legitimate media are able to do their job.”
Hall said that he is requesting for an independent force to examine their approach this week.
He added, Motorways are very dangerous places and our priority is to ensure public safety as well as the safety of officers and protestors.
“The awful incident in Essex where an officer has been injured underlines this.
“Our officers are facing very challenging circumstances and have been instructed to act as quickly as they can, using their professional judgment, to clear any possible protestors in order to get roads up and running and to prevent anyone from coming to harm.”
National Police Chiefs’ Council spokesperson said, “Journalists have a right to report at any form of protest and the freedom of the press is essential.
“When you’re there and policing, there is a huge amount of pressure to swiftly move things on and it is regrettable that journalists were caught up in that.
“All protests come with an enormous amount of pressure for policing. Journalists shouldn’t be prevented from legitimately doing their jobs.”