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Friday, 1 May 2015

Police cannot question image making in a public place

In Australia under most circumstances the police cannot object to the taking of photographs or video in a public place as it is legal to do so, the exception being in some cases when the subject of the image-making is a minor and usually only when a member of the public present objects to the image-making. However even that caveat isn't clear-cut.

Unfortunately, police continue to harass people making images in public in Australia, as we saw recently in Canberra at the Aboriginal march marking Anzac Day. That footage from SBS is valuable for us especially as it shows how the presence of a camera at such an event can have a positive effect, working to restrain over-enthusiastic police; you can hear members of the public at the march shouting "No violence!" as the police scuffle violently with resisting protesters. As the Taser is unholstered those shouts amplify but it's the presence of the video camera right on the spot - we can clearly see the faces of the policeman and the protester in dramatic close-up - that restrains an imminent assault with the device. Everyone present should be glad - seeing that footage - that the camera was being used there.

Later in the video you can also see the camera operator talking with police, who have clearly overstepped their authority and are somewhat buffoonishly trying in desperation to maintain a modicum of dignity by casting aspersions over the ethics of the conduct of the journalist. They attempt to imply that his use of the video equipment is ethically compromised, for example. Nevertheless it's clear that they have also tried to take away the equipment and we can hear him refusing to surrender it while furthermore insisting on his right to retire from the location of the discussion unmolested by them. He is clearly uncertain how they are going to react if he just leaves.

The ambit claim used by the police in this instance reminded me of a similar event that happened a couple of years ago in Sydney's Darlinghurst which caused some public reaction. It took place at the 2013 Mardi Gras where police were videoed assaulting a young man who was part of the crowd celebrating on the night. In that case, a police officer involved in the events asked the camera operator numerous times to stop filming and he was refused because the person with the camera had experience with media law.

It was shocking. But there's a link at the bottom of that blogpost to a short video Fairfax produced at the time which deals with the specific issue of filming in a public place. In the video a senior police officer publicly regrets the actions of the police on the night of the Mardi Gras. It's obviously worth looking at the video again at this point in time because it appears that the police have not learned their lesson and need to be continually reminded of the public's rights in regard to the making of images in public places.

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