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IFJ supports photojournalists' fight against arbitrary ban in London

(IFJ/IFEX) - 5 May 2011 - London based photographers staged a Flashmob outside the city hall in London on World Press Freedom Day to denounce arbitrary restrictions on their work in a city where the banning of photography in many public spaces is enforced by private security guards.

The event was organised by the "I am a Photographer Not a Terrorist" (PHNAT) campaign group, which is supported by the National Union of Journalists in England Ireland (NUJ) and its London Photographers' Branch.

"The ban on photography is an arbitrary measure which frustrates photojournalists' work and our colleagues are rightly dismayed that it is still in place," said IFJ President Jim Boumelha. "The event in London was a powerful message to the authorities to change course and lift all unnecessary restrictions on media work."

Around 50 photographers attended the PHNAT Flashmob event to highlight the ban's adverse impact on photographers' work in many public places across the city. They took pictures in areas where police still claim powers to prevent photography. The organisers also delivered a letter to the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, demanding action on creeping restrictions of press freedom in the capital.

The PHNAT is concerned about the role of private security guards in the prevention of terrorism which has been promoted by police, with the result that many privately employed guards are illegally preventing citizens from taking any photographs at all.

Areas designated as public realm are often privately managed spaces that are subject to rules laid down by the private management companies. Most insidious of these is the outright banning of photography in some of the most popular public spaces, such as Canary Wharf and the Thames Walk between Tower Bridge and City Hall. "It beggars belief that working journalists can be denied the right to work in public spaces and there is little wonder why our colleagues felt the need to fight back," added Boumelha. "This makes a mockery of the authorities' claim to respect press freedom."

The IFJ has supported the campaign by the NUJ to change anti-terrorism legislation, in particular Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which has been found by the European Court of Human Rights to breach Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to respect for private and family life). The section was suspended pending a review of counter-terrorism powers, including the use of terrorism legislation in relation to photography. The review was prompted by complaints from photographers over harassment by police "stop-and-search" powers. The coalition government has now reintroduced remedial orders reinstating these measures which journalists say will impede their work in covering public events, especially during protests against the government's austerity measures.

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