The Blanket

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Latest police attacks on press freedoms

A Belfast journalist, backed by the NUJ, may challenge the harsh line police are taking with reporters in the north of Ireland.

Mike Browne • The Journalist, September, 2003

PSNI RAIDS on the homes of press journalists may be challenged in court if Belfast NUJ member and political commentator Dr Anthony McIntyre sues after police raided his house under the Terrorism Act, stripping him of his journalistic equipment.

Earlier this year police raided the home of Sunday Times Ireland editor Liam Clarke and his wife after phone transcripts involving Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness and a key advisor for Tony Blair appeared in The Times. They later publicly challenged Chief Constable Hugh Orde over the raids. Nevertheless, files are being prepared for the DPP on the Clarkes for leaking ‘classified’ information.

Other prominent journalists have also been quizzed by police about security sources; concern is growing about police ‘harassment’ of journalists conducting their work.

The trend is in stark contrast to recent UK experience, where neither Dr David Kelly nor BBC’s Andrew Gilligan faced armed police raids at night or armoured police patrols outside their homes.

Concerns at increasing frequency of raids

Dr McIntyre’s home was raided on July 4th after he covered a republican prisoners protest at the Northern Ireland Prison Service headquarters in Belfast, on his web journal The Blanket.

The authorities launched a probe claiming personnel files of prison service staff were stolen by protestors and given to dissident republican paramilitaries.

Dr McIntyre denied involvement and slammed the raid as “political policing, censorship and suppression of the media and just a trawl for my contacts and my work.

“My notes on the protest made quite clear I was there as and acted as a journalist and the police must have been aware of that.” He has also consistently denounced dissident republican violence.

But police still seized his pc, discs, digital camera, electronic organizers, mobile phones and notebooks, effectively shutting his popular website and restricting his means to make a living. He also commentates for the BBC, CNN and RTE, amongst others and is an Observer columnist.

The NUJ backed his legal bid to have his property returned and voiced ‘extreme concern’ at the use of anti-terror legislation for the raid, and asked why police had not sought a Production Order, directing Dr McIntyre to surrender his material.

NUJ backing for legal action

Despite the surprise early return of his material on August 1st, Dr McIntyre’s solicitor Ted Jones confirmed he is considering legal action, under Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights guaranteeing freedom of the media, and redress for being prevented from earning a living.

The discriminatory way Dr McIntyre was treated compared to UTV and a Derry newspaper journalist during the same probe is also being examined. Jones said: “There was a complete discrepancy between how the journalists were treated.”

Jones had argued McIntyre’s material and property was ‘excluded material’, meaning journalistic material as described in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, the Official Secrets Act and the Terrorism Act.

It’s understood the NUJ will also back a new case.

General Secretary Jeremy Dear pinpointed the insidious use of terror or official secrets legislation: “We’re delighted Anthony MacIntyre's material has been returned and condemn the way the police acted throughout, which was a blatant attack on the freedom of journalists to carry out their lawful work free from harassment.”

A PSNI spokesman said: “The police have been and continue to liaise very closely with Mr McIntyre’s solicitor on all aspects relating to the ongoing investigation. As it is still ongoing it would be inappropriate to comment any further.”

Though the PSNI have ‘caved in’, Dr McIntyre was more eloquent: “The NUJ supported my action to have my property returned because they acknowledged I was a working journalist who had my equipment seized. The case involved serious journalistic principles which needed defending and it was worthy of their support.

“The PSNI tried to deal with me on the basis that I was not a journalist, and tried to say ex-prisoners can’t be journalists. [Dr McIntyre is a former life-sentence prisoner.]

“Is the Chief Constable saying he will decide who can and who can’t be a journalist? The NUJ have made a very good decision in standing up to the authorities on this.

“This is a major challenge by the PSNI to the autonomy of journalists. If it is now going to accuse journalists who cover protests of taking part in protests it’s a serious attack on the profession. The PSNI is trying to establish for itself the sole right to be the sole gatherers of public information which constitutes news.”

Police ‘chill factor’

There is a growing sense of a trend hampering journalists’ investigations. A prominent human rights activist accepts such fears seem justified, but would not comment publicly. Dr McIntyre feels journalists should worry: “All journalists now know there is a willingness to enact such orders, their houses can be raided at any time, their material seized and contacts, sources and numbers taken at any time.

“They’re letting us know they can intimidate people from disclosing material to journalists by the threat of a raid which will reveal a source. This can only be with the objective of making potential sources more reluctant to come forward.”

Liam Clarke, amongst others, says the aim is to introduce a ‘chill factor’: “There is a clampdown here, unlike the UK. An ex-Special Branch officer raided the night before us is facing trial.

“We had this before with the man accused of being ‘Martin Ingram’ (a pseudonym for an ex-army intelligence figure who leaked key information concerning the security force-led 1989 murder of Pat Finucane.)

“Such cases often don’t proceed to prosecution, as with ‘Ingram’, but think of the impact on a source who wanted to talk to a journalist. Though nobody goes to jail the punishment is the searching, the hassle, the phone-tapping and calling to see your employer.”

Although Orde says he is not a political policeman, many see the raids as a carry-over from his time on the Steven’s team, when it pursued journalists Neil Mulholland and Ed Moloney over the Finucane case; backed by the NUJ Moloney secured a significant legal acknowledgement of journalists’ privileges.

Clarke wants the PSNI challenged robustly: “Orde doesn’t seem to have much respect for the press. If this proceeds without any fuss it will set the standard for the future.” For Jeremy Dear the message is not lost: “It all demonstrates clearly the need for stronger laws to protect a journalist's right to report and to protect their sources."



 

 

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All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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Index: Current Articles



1 September 2003

 

Other Articles From This Issue:

 

Latest Police Attacks on Press Freedoms
Mike Browne

 

We Haven't Gone Away, You Know
The Blanket Back Online

 

The War Crime of Secret Graves
Anthony McIntyre

 

Horses for Courses
Eamon Sweeney

 

Rwanda: Crushing Dissent
Liam O Ruairc

 

Terrorists, Their Friends and the Bogota 3
Toni Solo

 

Aznar: Spain's Super Lackey
Agustín Velloso

 

Orwell Centenary Talk

John O'Farrell

 

The Letters page has been updated.

 

22 August 2003

 

A Pathological Political Disorder
Anthony McIntyre

 

Letter to the Blanket

Michael McKevitt

 

Deeply Flawed

Douglas Hamilton

 

The Prison Population Binge
Daniel S. Murphy

 

Going Native
Kathleen O Halloran

 

The Hall and State of Illusions
Davy Carlin

 

Congo
Liam O Ruairc

 

Mazen Dana
Sean Noonan

 

Michael Moore in Belfast: Stupid White Men
Anthony McIntyre

 

 

 

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