N. Ireland media warn police of riot footage risks

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The main news organisations operating in Northern Ireland told police Thursday that their growing demands for access to media riot footage theatens the safety of journalists.

Editors have written to the head of the province's police force over the dangers posed, and the damage done to relations between the media and the police by the use of court action to obtain footage.

It comes as police forces in England trawl through images from separate riots last week in London and several English cities in a bid to identify suspects, although that unrest did not spread to Northern Ireland.

"The undersigned have a genuine fear that terrorists and rioters will target the media whom they perceive to be evidence gatherers for the state, however involuntary that role might be," the news groups said in the letter.

The letter was from broadcasters the BBC, UTV and Sky News, plus the Press Association news agency and newspapers The Irish News, The Belfast Telegraph and The News Letter.

"Even in recent weeks we have seen one photojournalist injured by a bullet and a cameraman provide evidence in court that a bullet passed through his trousers and that he believed the media were being deliberately targeted whilst covering civil disturbances in Northern Ireland," it said.

The letter expressed concern at the "increased use of indiscriminate applications" to court for access to media material, which "threatens the good relations" between the media and the police.

The media organisations said Northern Ireland's society would suffer if safety concerns forced them to stop sending journalists to cover riots.

Police applications for footage pose threats to "the public perception of news organisations as being independent and impartial and, therefore, to the safety of our staff."

They urged police to review their own footage first before applying to obtain footage from media organisations.

A police spokesman said they were studying the letter's contents.

Scotland Yard said Wednesday it has around 20,000 hours of security camera footage to view from the London riots, "although this is likely to increase as we gather further material from CCTV, the public and other sources."

© 2011 AFP

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