Protection for journalists covering protests expected to be added to Public Order Bill

Posted on: March 7, 2023 by Claire Meadows

An extra protection for journalists covering protests is expected to be added to the Public Order Bill by the government this week, it has been announced.

The amendment, which is expected to state that officers must not “exercise a police power for the sole purpose of preventing a person from observing or reporting on a protest’ follows a similar protection voted through by peers in the House of Lords last month.

The government’s new amendment, expected to replace the protection proposed in the Lords, follows widespread criticism last year of the arrest of LBC reporter Charlotte Lynch, the press photographer Tom Bowles, film-maker Rich Felgate and photographer, Ben Cawthra, by Hertfordshire Police while covering protests by the climate group Just Stop Oil on the M25. The arrests were “strongly condemned” by the Society of Editors at the time with the force later admitting its actions were unlawful following legal action by one of those arrested.

The legislation will return to the House of Commons on Tuesday 7 March 2023 and the government has confirmed that the arrest of Lynch and others had led to the inclusion of the amendment.

Reported by The Guardian, a government spokesperson said: “The government is clear that the role of members of the press must be respected and that they are able to do their job freely without restriction. We remain of the view that this amendment is unnecessary as it is already unlawful for the police to exercise their powers on journalists or any person where there is no legitimate need to do so.

They added: “However, we recognise the strength of feeling expressed by the Lords on this issue. We have therefore brought a government amendment in lieu which retains the sentiment of the original measure but ensures it doesn’t undermine the legitimate use of police powers of arrest and to maintain public order and public safety.”