This week I was going to post about ‘Soheila Sokhanvari: Rebel Rebel’ an exhibition commissioned by the Barbican, London, on display in and within the specially, transformed space of The Curve gallery. It is an intriguing visual account of feminist icons from pre-revolutionary Iran.
However, that is going to have to wait for another week or so. I am poleaxed. Very early on Wednesday morning I watched, in mounting disbelief, a video clip on Twitter showing how on Monday, 7 November 2022, Rich Felgate, a documentary film-maker and fellow press photographer, Tom Bowles, were arrested by Hertfordshire Police whilst covering the Just Stop Oil M25 protests. Arrested for simply doing their job.
Both men are members of the British Press Photographers’ Association and as such carry certified ID to that effect. The police were undeterred, Felgate writes on Twitter,
“Police had no interest in seeing press ID and handcuffed us instantly on arrival.”
He goes on tweeting
“they said they needed to search me for items which could be used to commit criminal damage. Obviously, they found nothing, so an officer said ‘just arrest them for conspiracy instead then'”.
They were arrested and held in custody for 13 hours. Following the introduction of the ‘Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022’ police now have wider powers when policing so-called unacceptable protests by groups such as Extinction Rebellion, Just Stop Oil, Insulate Britain and Black Lives Matter. And, it appears individual police officers are expected to use their informed discretion when making arrests.
Later, following these arrests of Felgate and Bowles, who, incidentally, were standing on a footbridge away from the protest, a spokesperson for the Hertfordshire Constabulary said:
“As always, our priority remains to ensure public safety – we have a responsibility for the health and safety of all those involved and everyone at the scene, including emergency services, members of the public, members of the press and the protesters themselves.
Our officers have been instructed to act as quickly as they can, using their professional judgment, to clear any possible protesters in order to get roads up and running and to prevent anyone from coming to harm.”
Whether you agree with the Just Stop Oil tactics or not these arrests along with several others including LBC journalist, Charlotte Lynch, are shocking. I may be somewhat naive, but why hasn’t this outrage been headline news across all UK news media. Too soon perhaps? The mainstream media playing it safe, checking out the claims of two professional, card-carrying photographers first?
I see the Guardian has covered it on their website, but as I no longer buy any printed newspapers, I don’t know if any printed press informed their readerships. However, in the online world along with the Guardian, other websites such as the Independent, the Daily Mail, the Huffington Post, the Standard, the Northern Echo, the National (Wales) and even the Diss Herald, covered this reprehensible incident. By this morning (Thursday 10th November) printed editions of two national newspapers (Daily Mail and Daily Express) do have the Just Stop Oil campaign as front-page, headline news. Naturally, they are not covering the misuse of police powers or voicing their concerns regarding the Climate Emergency, but screaming for Home Secretary Braverman to get more police to arrest more climate protestors more quickly.
And, where is the BBC’s coverage? I have ‘news’ notifications from the BBC on my phone – pinging me letting me know all kinds of random news, yet the great and the good at the BBC did not consider the disregard of a pillar of our democracy, THE FREEDOM OF THE PRESS, to be newsworthy. Not enough public interest perhaps? Oh but, when I looked at the video clip on Twitter very early on Wednesday morning it had already been viewed 1.4 million times.
The very nature of Twitter means it hosts fast news though not necessarily verified news. At least by Wednesday lunchtime the BBC news people had seen the footage and the fuss on social media, checked it and thought the incident worthy of reporting on their ‘World at One’ Radio 4 news programme. They reported what had occurred and conducted a short interview with one of the two arrested, Tom Bowles. The slot was brief and yet by the early evening the Radio 4 ‘PM’ programme dropped the story entirely, but, strangely, there was enough time to discuss ’50 years of HBO’ and American TV. At least Channel 4 News thought differently and interviewed Tom Bowles on their flagship 7 pm TV programme.
But, basically, blink and you missed the reporting of this disturbing occurrence.
Before I end this rant, I would just like to comment that for all its faults and even with the arrival of Elon Musk, Twitter does get all kinds of news out there and it is especially useful when issues are controversial and state authorities decide to play hardball.
P.S. Update: The Twitter video has now been viewed over two million times. (10-11-2022)