BRITISH newspapers and broadcasters have come under pressure from the London Metropolitan Police to hand over all videos and pictures related to the London riots last month.
ITN, which produces ITV News and Channel 4 News, The Guardian, The Times and also the BBC are among the media organisations resisting efforts by Scotland Yard to obtain footage filmed during the riots that ”could show crime in action”.
The demands follow Prime Minister David Cameron’s call for the media to take responsibility and immediately release all material to help police track down and punish suspected rioters and looters.
Police forces, including West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester, began to informally approach media groups a fortnight ago, urging them to voluntarily hand over all footage – used or unused – of civil unrest during the riots.
The Met police has sent follow-up requests to several newspapers and broadcasters. Scotland Yard said it would obtain a court order to force the disclosure if the media did not volunteer material.
Each of the media groups said they would fiercely resist the demands to avoid being seen as an evidence-gathering arm of the police.
But the media would be forced to hand over unused material if issued with a production order under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Under the act, the judge weighs the interests of the police in obtaining evidence with the public interest in a free press.
Hundreds of police officers are working through about 40,000 hours of CCTV footage across the country. In London, Met officers are believed to be studying more than 20,000 hours of video.
A spokesman for the Met said: ”The police are identifying people through pictures, CCTV and through the media to ensure people are brought to justice. We would ask the media to work with the police to ensure that happens.”
Fran Unsworth, the BBC’s head of news-gathering, said a fortnight ago that the corporation would refuse requests to hand over footage without a court order.
”It’s a matter of principle for us, we don’t just hand over our rushes [raw footage] to the police without them going through a proper process, which is via the courts,” she said in an interview on BBC radio.
”It doesn’t really matter what the nature of the offences are. If we went down that road of making judgments of the nature of the offences, that would compromise our editorial standards.”
A BBC spokesman said: ”We have standard processes in place to deal with requests from the police through our litigation department, regardless of the subject matter. Any request would need to be dealt with by the courts.”