>Jeremy Dear, the General Secretary of the NUJ has written to Jacqui Smith about the harassment journalists are receiving from the FIT. Here is the letter:
I am writing to highlight our growing concerns regarding routine police surveillance of journalists.
In particular we have serious concerns about the activities of the Metropolitan Police’s Forward Intelligence Team (FIT Team) in monitoring and recording the activities of bona fide journalists, especially photographers. A number of members have alleged that the police’s surveillance action amounts to virtual harassment and is a serious threat to their right to carry out their lawful employment.
As you will be aware the FIT team have a responsibility to provide intelligence to police units in respect of individuals who may be involved in public order issues. “Targets” whose likenesses are retained by the police are given four-figure Photographic Reference Numbers and held on a database.
Recently, the FIT team has started surveillance of Press-Card-carrying journalists who cover and report on protests of any kind. For example, at a recent lobby against the SOCPA restrictions on protests on 1 March – all members of the press present were catalogued by the FIT team.
Through Data Protection Act requests we have learned that details of bona fide journalists are held on this database with photographic reference numbers.
I have met with a number of those journalists, mainly photographers who have been the victims of this intimidatory policing. For instance, members of the FIT team who know individual journalists by name still follow them and film them all the time they are working. The journalists have provided their Press Cards to FIT team members, have asked why they are under surveillance and have reminded police officers of their lawful right to carry out their work. Despite this the surveillance continues.
Despite repeated requests there has been no legitimate reason given why police photographers should be photographically cataloguing journalists going about their lawful business.
I would welcome from you information in respect of the guidance given to the FIT team.
Are the FIT team issued with instructions to photograph and catalogue journalists? Can you provide guidelines issued to FIT Team members about their duties/role?
For what purpose is information gained by the FIT team held on journalists by the police?
Who has access to information being held on police databases about journalists?
The routine and deliberate targeting of photographers and other journalists by the Forward Intelligence Team undermines media freedom and can serve to intimidate photographers trying to carry out their lawful work. The rights of photographers to work free from threat, harassment and intimidation must be upheld.
I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you and/or relevant officials to provide further evidence of this activity, including photographic evidence and to seek assurances that the government will do all it can to ensure professional journalists are able to carry out their lawful work.