Journalism And The State

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90364719-1c2bf7801ff9c4d7cec1745672bed6bf8_400x400Eamonn Farrell and Irish Water protests (above) before Christmas

Eamonn Farrell is a former photo-editor of the Sunday Tribune and founder and editor of Photocall Ireland, the largest editorial photographic agency in Ireland.

He has covered all the major social issues in Ireland since 1980, including the H-Block Riots, Peace Process, Divorce, Contraception and Abortion Campaigns.

Recently his agency has extensively followed the Irish Water protests.

Eamonn writes:

As journalists, we are all deeply aware of the challenges facing us and the media in general, as a result of the digital revolution. Like previous unintended consequences resulting from technological developments i.e. the containerization of Dublin Port, and the demise of dock workers, we have to find ways to turn these events to our advantage.

However there is another serious challenge facing us, which has received very little attention and which seriously threatens our independence as a profession.

This is attempts by the Gardai, representing the State, to use journalists and in particular those working in the photographic/video/film arena as an extension of their eyes and ears.

The attempt to force journalists by default, to become agents of the state at protests and demonstrations is not only a threat to our independence and objectivity, but also to our safety and our reputations.

The agency which I represent and work for Photocall ireland has a long tradition of objectively covering events of political, social and environmental importance.

Our professional duty during such coverage, is to represent the public by objectively visually recording what we see, without fear or favour. In doing so we have often suffered the displeasure of both protestors and gardai, but carried on in the knowledge that despite our own individual opinions, we recorded events as they unfolded before us.

As suppliers of media content, we would of course have no or very little say in what imagery was eventually used by the publications or broadcasters we served.

This week our office was visited by two gardai with a summons for two of our staff to appear in a court case which the gardai were taking against a protestor or protesters involved in an event outside the Department of Justice last year, which one of our photojournalists covered.

One summons was for the journalist and the other for the office manager who had downloaded the images onto a CD for the gardai.

So why had we cooperated with the gardai? Well actually we hadn’t. We were handing copies of the images over after refusing to do so unless a warrant was produced. Eventually a warrant was procured and the images were handed over under protest and duress.

This was the third time images were demanded from various events, the third time we refused and the first time a warrant was served and images given over.

I have reason to believe we may be the only media organisation which refused each time we were asked, but maybe I am wrong. Why did we refuse to “help the gardai”. Well because of the following:

1. That is not our professional role.

2. The gardai have the means and the ability to make their own recordings.

3. To become the perceived ‘Eyes and Ears’ of the gardai at protests and demonstrations and marches undermines our ability to carry out our work.
What next? A request for visuals from meetings and briefings behind closed doors!

5. Our journalists already suffer enough intimidation and threats from paramilitaries, gangsters, militants and some members of the public, while trying to carry out their work, without being put in added danger by the knowledge that whatever we record is available on demand by representatives of the state.

6. Because it is bad for democracy if the Fourth Estate ceases to be independent or seen to be independent of the other powerful arms of state. Its independence in other respects is already a topic of debate and that is as it should be. It is now important that this issue of the state through the gardai, demanding that journalists work in a supporting role to it, should also become a matter of debate among journalists, politicians and the public.

Hunger Strikes 1981

Hunger Strikes 1981

The above photograph [click to enlarge] of a confrontation between Hunger Strike marchers and the gardai at the British embassy in 1981 and the photograph (top) of journalists being threatened by baton waving gardai at the same event is a case in point.

My duty as a journalist covering the event was to record whatever I saw. Gardai beating up protesters or protesters beating up gardai, it did not matter.

As a journalist the freedom to remain objective and independent is critical to my work and any attempt to interfere with it, is an attack on democracy.

Eamonn Farrell

18 thoughts on “Journalism And The State

  1. David

    So let’s say by chance one of their photographers captures a robbery, or a murder, or vandalism at an event, they should have the right to withhold vital information which could lead to conviction of the criminals involved?

    I’m sorry, but Gardai should retain the rights they have in investigating and solving crimes.

      1. Clampers Outside!

        I see the children’s Saturday TV programming ended early for the rugby.
        …..Oh look over here instead, oh look under there, but don’t look at the point being raised whatever you do !

      2. Soundings

        + 47 (months since the Moriarty Tribunal report was published, in which, according to this Sindo article which is still online – http://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/elaine-byrne-lowry-and-obrien-the-story-that-wont-go-away-26878381.html – “Judge Moriarty concluded that [Denis] O’Brien donated almost IR£1m in “clandestine circumstances” to [former minister and current Dail deputy, Michael] Lowry who, according to the tribunal, “not only influenced, but delivered” the licence.”)

    1. Foras

      Straw man. There are no crimes involved, otherwise Mitchell and her ilk would not have to invent criminality with terms like “terrorism”, “ISIS” and “sinister fringe” or to lie about threats and intimidation. This is pure intimidation of protesters with the aim of reducing their numbers. In other words, political policing.

  2. Clampers Outside!

    I think it’s important that the professionals distinguish themselves more at protests, more work on point 3. Anyone protesting will view all cameras with the first thought…

    “I’m being recorded, this could go online for all to see”

    If the public knows this…. no, the public does know this, then it shouldn’t matter whether images are requested by warrant or not.

    My tuppence

  3. Darren Cowzer

    Denis O’Brien, FG and RTE are abusing their media groups powers to try to influence and control people instead of actually delivering the news to the stakeholders that are the Irish citizens, after the next general election, I can see a lot of referendums aimed at preventing FG & DOB & the Gardai from abusing their power to the detriment of the ordinary Irish citizen – we have a right to peaceful protest, to a Garda force that serves the 99% not just the 1%, to an actual independent news service, to a Government with a popular mandate, only FG voters actually want this right wing government to continue, traditional labour voters such as myself want it desolated now and the treacherous right wing invaders removed from labour, Labour are screwed now for a generation, if they had refused to prop up FG, FG & FF would have both been decimated in Government and Labour probably would have had at least a Leading role in Government if not an absolute majority but as we all know Power Corrupts #iPhoneJoan

  4. Wayne Carr

    I think we should all ignore the suggestion that Gardaí are only seeking footage that protects them, and shows members of the public doing wrong, rather then seeking all footage, even that footage which might show their own members stepping out of line.

    The Gardaí can do no wrong, and these communists and Sinn Féiners suggesting that the Gardaí are a nefarious force should be locked up. Criminal charges should only be brought against the public.

  5. Sadface

    Its funny though,The Gardai dont seem to have the same urgency requesting CC tv footage related to city centre assualt for instance…
    The Gardai should start looking after the citizens of this country rather than being the bully boys for whoever we were stupid enough to vote into Govt.

  6. Shane

    Cases of this nature centre on the constitutional right to a fair trial and the recognised garda duty, so far as practicable and necessary, to seek out and preserve evidence having a bearing or potential bearing on the issue of guilt or innocence in a given case. In the important case of Braddish v DPP [2001] 3 I.R. 127, Hardiman J., in the Supreme Court held that the gardaí have a duty

    …arising from their unique investigative role, to seek out and preserve all evidence. This is so whether the prosecution propose to rely on the evidence or not, and regardless of whether it assists the case the prosecution is advancing or not (at 133).

    The courts have decided what they do.

    1. Chompsky

      Shane, just off the phone to Legal Coffee Drinker.

      LCD sez:
      “Braddish and the series of cases applying it are primarily about the duty to preserve evidence rather than to seek it out. Also, in Braddish itself, it was recognised that even the duty to preserve evidence was not without limits. According to Hardiman J, at p34 of the report of Braddish:
      ‘the duty to preserve and disclose has to be interpreted in a fair and reasonable manner…. to do so ‘so far as is necessary and practicable’…it cannot be interpreted as requiring the gardaí to engage in disproportionate commitment of man power or resources in an exhaustive search for every conceivable kind of evidence. The duty must be interpreted realistically on the facts of each case.'”

  7. Panty Christ

    Storyful are preoccupied with verifying videos of Isis. They should try the proximity of news angle for a while

  8. Andrew Brennan

    The media in Ireland has always been a creature of the State. They covered up Enda’s obscene racist ‘joke’ during a function attended by parliamentary colleagues, party workers and political journalists. The ‘joke’ was directed at Patrice Lumumba, the African Nationalist leader and first democratically elected Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo – who was assassinated in 1961. Then there’s the media silence on the abuses in the institutions, Magdalene laundries, Mother & Baby Homes …..

    The fact that they’re rowing in on the Government’s side in the #IrishWater Debacle is no surprise; the same media trumpets #Austerity today with the same fervour that it trumpeted the so-called ‘Celtic Tiger’ myth.

    The Irish media were in thrall to the Holy Trinity and today they are in thrall to the Troika.

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