IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: Hostile cops don’t decide what we do
I HAVE ON MY DESK photographs of two police constables – one male, the other female – who apparently went out of their way to harass a young Nation photographer who was dispatched to the hospital on April 16 to cover the arrival of ambulances from the St Joseph shooting and St Peter chase and crash.
In my more than three decades in journalism, I have been to the hospital myself or have assigned reporters and photographers to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital when there were similar events in the past. It’s a natural part of covering the news.
In fact, in the past, we have had discussions and simulation exercises with what used to be the Central Emergency Relief Organisation, the police and the hospital on how we should operate there during emergencies, particular mass casualty events, in a way that allows us to get the news without getting in the way of emergency personnel.
The problem we often encounter is that there is always someone involved – a policeman, or more likely a hospital guard – who is offended by the very act of taking photographs – even if you are out under the trees.
I remember once having to complain to the then commissioner of police about a constable who ordered a photographer away from the area immediately outside the ambulance bay, then ordered him out of the car park, then followed him to the sidewalk, only to order him to the far side of the street. And even from that distance he still had a problem with the photographer taking pictures.
During this most recent incident, the young photographer, somewhat timid and not the type to pick a fight with the police, reported he arrived at the hospital and immediately walked over to some members of the Special Services Unit (SSU), identified himself, told them his business and asked where he could stand to take his pictures without impeding them or anyone else in their duties.
He reported further that the officers from the SSU politely showed him where he could stand in the car park, but soon after a hospital guard arrived and complained he could not stand there. The guard complained to a constable in uniform, who responded by telling the photographer he had to move, all the while threatening to arrest him.
The intervention of the same SSU personnel, who confirmed he had spoken to them first, was enough to defuse the situation, he added.
That was until another ambulance arrived and a young female constable, who had been in deep discussion with the other constable all along, decided her duty was to stand immediately in front of his camera no matter where he walked or how he shifted.
Instead of publishing the photos of the two constables with issues, however, I have decided to highlight the two gentlemen from the SSU and suggest to Acting Commissioner Tyrone Griffith that he might consider using them to help train the constables on the art of relationship building.
Gentlemen, I do appreciate your cooperation in working with the young photographer. He has asked me to tell you that you have earned his respect.
By the way, just in case the force has no more copies of the Media Policy document it crafted with the assistance of the Barbados Association of Journalists to share with inexperienced or over-exuberant young constables, here is what it says in Section 12 and 13 under the headings Editorial Content and Obstruction.
12.1 Police officers shall not restrict news photographers from taking pictures merely because the officer may disagree with the nature/type of the pictures. It is the news photographer’s and the reporter’s job to gather information and take pictures. Editors will determine which photographs, footage or information they will run.
13.1 Members of the media shall not obstruct a police officer in the lawful execution of his or her duty. It must, however, be noted that the mere presence of an authorised media representative at an accident, crime, disaster or fire scene, the taking of photographs and the gathering of information relative to the incident, in and of itself does not constitute an obstruction.
13.2 Police officers are reminded that they do not have lawful authority to arbitrarily seize any camera, electronic recording device or any other equipment being used by or in the possession of any media representative whilst at a crime scene or other place of interest.
I believe that implicit in this is that if you don’t like the media, can’t stand reporters or photographers, don’t believe they should be taking pictures of such events, or just woke up on the wrong side of the bed, you can’t use your badge or uniform to wilfully and deliberately obstruct journalists in the execution of their duties.