“There is no criminal law restricting photography or filming or recording in public places… concern has grown in the media that over-zealous police officers, security guards and members of the public raise invalid objections to journalists using cameras. Photographers have been wrongly arrested.” (McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists, 22nd edition)
“There are no powers prohibiting the taking of photographs, film or digital images in a public place. Therefore, members of the public and press should not be prevented from doing so.” (Guidance issued by the Association of Chief Police Officers)
For motoring journalists planning photo shoots, the main consideration here is probably trespass, and possibly obstruction of the highway. Otherwise, the normal rules of the road apply, including regarding parking restrictions. However, it is often possible for media organisations, especially broadcasters, to obtain permission to park where this is not normally allowed. The parking departments of local councils are a good place to start when seeking consent.
Ethical policies apply here, as well as the law. Broadcast journalists and cameramen must operate within the Ofcom code, and photographers are governed by the Editors’ Code. The following clauses of the Editor’s Code particularly apply to photographers:
- 3 (privacy)
- 4 (harassment)
- 5 (intrusion)
- 6 (children)
- 8 (hospitals), and
- 10 (clandestine devices).
Photographers and the law
Police guidelines (to police officers) say the media have a duty to report the news. Where cordons are in place, the media should be allowed a vantage point.
If distressed people ask the media to stop filming, police can only pass on the request (but see the Editors’ Code)
Police can only seize cameras or footage if they are suspected to contain evidence of crime; and after the photographer has left the scene, only with a court order (under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act).
Journalists and photographers generally resist such orders, because they feel they would be put at risk if they were seen as evidence-gatherers for the police.
Police cannot order a photographer to delete images at the scene of an incident.
If a journalist is physically restrained or put in the cells, they might have a case for claiming false arrest.
Arrest for breach of the peace may be threatened; this is only justified if harm has been done, or is likely; or if a journalist is disorderly.
Obstructing the highway: journalists can be arrested for obstructing the highway (under the Highways Act 1980). It is an offence to obstruct free passage along a highway “without lawful authority or excuse”. Police can arrest anyone who refuses to move on.
Obstructing the police: a photographer who keeps shooting when asked to stop, and argues with a police officer, could be accused of obstructing the police – they’d be hindering the officer in his duty. It doesn’t have to be a physical obstruction. However, a photographer who took pictures of a man threatening to jump from the Tyne Bridge was cleared of obstruction – he had acted professionally.
Trespass on private land is not a crime – it is a tort (a wrong) under civil law. A landowner’s remedy is to seek an injunction (preventing future trespass) and damages. A landowner or legal occupier can use reasonable force to eject a trespasser and police may help if asked.
In 2019, the issue of filming on private land was highlighted when a 14-year-old football vlogger claimed he was aggressively moved on by a steward for trying to shoot a piece outside Chelsea’s ground. Read more at guardian.co.uk. Note: watch for updates on the story – how did it turn out?
In early 2019, the BBC reported that Coventry City Council was considering a ban on flying drones over city council parks, partly because of privacy concerns over drone cameras.
A film crew filming seabirds with drones on the British island of St Helena was surprised by a rebuke from the manager of the nearby island prison – with nine inmates. She pointed out that drones are used to fly drugs into jails.
The Air Navigation (Amendment) Order 2018 tightened up rules on flying unmanned aircraft above 400 feet or within a kilometre of protected airports. In Janaury 2019 the Department for Transport proposed a further tightening of the law.
One proposal was for fixed penalties for breaching safe flying rules.