Media and law enforcement in Australia have an oft tumultuous relationship. However, it is important that media understand their rights when dealing with law enforcement to get the maximum production value while still allowing police to conduct their duties. Also, the media are a resource to the Police and must be suitably managed so that the resource is used effectively.
Media Assembly Areas
Police have a responsibility to protect the safety of the general public, and that includes media covering crime stories and emergency events. If required, Police are to set up designated and easily identifiable media vantage point/assembly areas. A media assembly area should:
- enable the media to report on the incident
- provide a line of sight to the incident, if safe to do so and if not a siege
- secure the safety of the media
- protect the crime scene
- ensure the media do not interfere with Police action or restrict access to the crime scene by emergency services or other approved respondents. Exactly where and how the media area is set up is a decision for the senior Police Officer at the scene. The media assembly area can only be set up on private premises with the express or implied consent of the owner or occupier, or if there is a Commonwealth law which authorises media to film on the land. (NSW Police Media Policy 2016).
Police have no specific rights or powers to do anything to prevent the media taking photographs of or filming Police Officers or family members at crime scenes if the media remain out of the crime scene itself and obey all other laws. If the media are in a public place outside of the crime scene, they have a general right to film the crime scene and the persons within it. Reporters in a public location can only be requested to move on if there are legitimate safety or operational reasons that provide a legal power to do so. The media can also take photographs or film crime scenes or searches from private property (other than the property subject to the crime scene or search warrant) if they have the permission of the owner/ occupier. Camera footage taken from a public place, or a privately-owned place with the consent of the owner/ occupier, does not contravene the Surveillance Devices Act 2007. The footage can be taken in these circumstances even if the crime scene or activity itself is not in a public place. It is NOT the job of Police Officers at crime scenes to decide on whether legally obtained media footage or photographs are insensitive or in poor taste. What the media may publish is governed by various broadcasting laws and codes of conduct. Journalists and camerapersons may make recordings of events and record, monitor and listen to conversations which are not defined as private conversations.
Police Powers of Seize and Arrest
Unless Police Officers have a lawful right to interfere with or use force against media personnel, Police should not physically grab or cover cameras or media equipment (for example, by placing something over or very close to the lens). If Police Officers try to grab or cover cameras or interfere with media personnel officers may be liable for prosecution for assault or trespass to the person concerned. At a reasonable distance from the media, Police Officers can shield themselves or other persons (including victims) or objects from the view of the media or their cameras. Generally, Police Officers are not authorised to confiscate media tape/footage. Only if the actual taking of photographs or footage constitutes an offence, do Police have the power to arrest the person who committed the offence and the power to seize the tape, photographs and footage as evidence of the crime.
To achieve a successful relationship between media and law enforcement there needs to be mutual respect. Media can be used as an asset in police operations to maximise assistance and information from the public to help solve crime, deter criminal activity by increasing the perception of detection and to highlight good Police work. Media need to respect that Police have a very important role in the community and hindering their efforts for a news story can be detrimental to the safety of not only the community but themselves.
GM Risk Group provides Domestic Journalism Safety and Hostile Environment Awareness Training (HEAT) courses to staff and freelance journalists globally. Amongst other subjects, our courses cover media and law enforcement specific to each country and state. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org