Anarchists target press photographers at demonstrations

Keith Nuthall on a new threat to free reporting
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Britain's photographers and cameramen are being targeted for violent attacks in demonstrations by battle-hardened revolutionaries who want to stop their pictures appearing in the press and on TV.

A detailed leaflet published by an anarchist group called the Hungry Brigade calls for anti-media flying squads to disable cameras.

The leaflet, entitled What do we want? Some thoughts on violence on demos, focuses on the riot that followed the 12 April Trafalgar Square Social Justice rally for sacked Liverpool dockers which had been organised with anti-roads group Reclaim the Streets.

Street-fighting in and around Whitehall led to photographers saying they had been injured, by activists and police. Officers claimed that the event was hijacked by hardliners among Britain's direct-action movement, which has grown in popularity through campaigns against the Newbury bypass and Manchester airport extension.

The leaflet says: "Don't say cheese. Press and TV cameras were attacked on 12 April, but this needs to be stepped up.

"Small groups of us could decide to concentrate on a given situation. Or we'll find ourselves on the front of the Sun.

"Good shots could try and take out police cameras. Powerful catapults might be useful."

"Paintbombs" should also be used against cameras, it adds.

The leaflet has been widely circulated among direct-action activists, appearing in mail-outs of undergound magazines such as Schnews and Contraflow.

It contains advice on setting up snatch squads to halt police arrests, the need for activists to mask themselves to prevent identification and the exhortation that bottle-throwers should take aim from the frontline, so that their missiles do not hit demonstrators.

It also addresses a debate within the direct-action movement between "fluffy" and "spiky" positions on whether violence promotes their environmental, political and social goals.

The authors claim to be "revolutionaries, with experience in many groups and struggles, going back 10-15 years or more," and so are of the spiky tendency.

"Sad to see the idiots of 12 April standing in front of the lines of tooled-up riot cops shouting, 'No, no, don't throw things. Chill out. We're here to party," their critique says.

Photographers injured at Trafalgar Square said that the leaflet was the latest sign of mounting hostility at demonstrations. Colleagues were also attacked at protests against the Criminal Justice Act, at Hyde Park, and against the British National Party at its headquarters in Welling, Kent.

The photographers blame police seizures of film under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (Pace) for prosecutions since the 1980s. There have also been reports of private detectives posing as freelance photographers to gather information.

Justin Leighton of the Network photo agency said he was hit during the April protest and had activists threatening him and trying to snatch his camera.

He said: "You can see where they are coming from. They cannot trust anybody."

Sion Touhig of the Sygma agency was concussed and needed five stitches after a bottle struck his head. He said: "Today you have to watch your back, whereas before you thought that you were the third party."

The National Union of Journalists thinks that the publication in newspapers of photographs of protesters committing crimes has also worsened relations. NUJ spokesman Tim Gopsill said: "Journalists are there to record an event, which the demonstrators should want. It's not the Press's job to try and jail somebody."

A Metropolitan Police spokesman agreed that since the passing of the Pace law "photographers have become more vulnerable". He said: "Maybe they are beginning to be seen as part of the demonstration scene, as fair game to chuck things at." But he defended the force's right to use Pace as a way to gain evidence that had led to "successful prosecutions".