Public Order Situations (Riots) and Protests

Now, some of you might have noticed that I often cover demonstrations and protests, its one of those things documentary photographers do, they have a history of covering social change since it was possible to carry a camera, and some before they could carry one.

However, such a mass of people, often colourful, you might think is a walk in the park picture taking wise. It is, until the usual hassles from police, marshals or protesters start to make things difficult.

There have also been problems for photographers regarding the terrorism act and certain locations, often leading to threat of arrest

Issues surround Police – Press – Photographer relations

The has been a fair amount of discussion, between the National Union of Journalists, ACPO and the MET Police, regarding the recognition of the press card, and the rights and responsibilities implied


Not so long ago when the reporting of events likely to involve public disorder such as, but not limited to, the recent actions against blood sports, GM crops, capitalism and animal laboratories. ‘News Gatherers’ are usually held in the same regard by the authorities as the demonstrators. Allegedly each side either claims news gatherers are collecting information on behalf of the authorities or that demonstrators are posing as news gatherers to evade arrest. This is why the authorities are not allowed to approach ‘news gatherers’ as informers – journalist safety, if one news gatherer was used as an informer, it endangers the rest of the news gatherers. News gatherers are also protected under special clause in PACE Section 5.8 with the aims of stopping police seizing camera’s, film, or computers for an information fishing trip!

Nat Bocking, has made some labels for news gatherers with the ‘special procedures material notice’

©Nat Bocking, I must also point out that this label wording and artwork is COPYRIGHT and is only provided for free on condition that no one manufactures to sell or profits by these labels.

Advice for photographers covering demonstrations

Before covering any demonstration, time spent on preparation usually pays off in keeping safe and getting good pictures.

Research & recce

Check with the organisers of the demonstration its times and route. Are there feeder marches? What are the expected numbers? Speakers? Are there expected problems, any counter demonstrations? Will it be marshaled? Check with police press office demonstration times, route, expected numbers, any expected problems, any counter demonstrations, whether it will be marshaled. Always carry a map so you can check alternative routes and exit points. Leave yourself time to drive the route to check for places for good pictures, trouble spots, level of policing, exit routes. If you are parking a car, think carefully where you leave it, as you might need to get out in a hurry. If you park too close to the demonstration your car could get damaged or blocked if there is trouble. If you are a freelance on commission, are you insured by the media organisation?

Preparing yourself

Wear strong walking boots. Wear strong, tight-fitting clothing which allows you to move about freely. Always remember the weather and dress accordingly. Carry only a small camera bag with the minimum amount of equipment so you can move quickly if need be. Do not carry other equipment such as a step ladder. Have enough film or electronic memory in case it turns into a major news story. Shin guards, kneepads, body amour, helmet – all or some may be worth thinking about. [A bicycle helmet is less likely to attract trouble than a Darth Vader jobbie – ed] Let someone know that you are covering the demonstration, what time you are leaving and at what time to expect you back.

At the demonstration

What’s going on around you while you’re taking pictures? There’s a world outside the viewfinder and trouble can come from behind as well as in front of you. If you are working as a journalist you should not be taking part in a demonstration. At all times you should be distinct from the protesters. You should not work alongside the police as the demonstrators may mistake you for a police photographer. Always carry your press card in an accessible place and use it to identify yourself. Carry your cameras openly and act like a press photographer at all times. Keep an eye on fellow photographers in case they need help. Carry a copy of the NUJ’s and Thompson solicitors emergency phone numbers in case you need help. Always work in such a way that if something happens you can extract yourself.

The police in the UK do have a history of harassing journalists, assaulting them, detaining and arresting them. Here is a list of some of the incidents:

NUJ Legal + Safety Information

Advice from the National Union of Journalists Freelance – Aimed at Freelance Photographers

NUJ Advice for photographers covering demonstrations

NUJ Policing incident report form been obstructed (or assisted)?

NUJ Danger! Journalists at work! roundup of articles on safety

NUJ The Right to Report more articles

NUJ Mind how you go

NUJ Photos ‘Legally Disappear’ [the brussles run!]

Other Guides

Earth First: Guide to Public Order Situations

Tash: Those of you that know my photography, know I’m frequently involved in Public Order Situations …….

It is my opinion that photographers should not be involved in these ‘dynamics’ of protest. It is important for your continued capability to cover the event, that you are distinctive from those engaged in the protest. The same would be true of ‘legal observers’. The police will thus treat you the same as everyone else.

But I would however still suggest that you are aware of this Earth First Advice, since it may help you interpret the scene before you. – webpage – a PDF for print out

and Schnews public order advice:

A few international links on Journalism safety and right to report

Reporters Without Borders

A few links for those concerned on the ‘right to report’ UK NUJ / Freelance:

NUJ The Freelance Sept05: More Indymedia woes

NUJ The Freelance Aug 05: More Indymedia seizures

NUJ The Freelance Aug 05: Public Order at the G8

NUJ condemns police raid to grab BBC tapes after G8

He’s a fair cop, guv Paddick’s promise

NUJ The Freelance Sept05: All’s well that ends G8?

NUJ The Freelance Sept05: How the G8 is spun

NUJ The Freelance Aug 05: Public Order. Stay safe, stay together

Association of Chief Police Officers: Media Advisory Group

Met Police: Media Guide


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