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16.04.2019

Court decides police were wrong to refuse journalist accreditation for political event

By Jane Whyatt

The High Court in London has ruled that police wrongly classed a political reporter as a security risk because he was present when activists released cockroaches and locusts into a restaurant. 

Court decides police were wrong to refuse journalist accreditation for political event The Royal Courts of Justice in London. Photo Royal Court2, CC BY-SA 2.0

The police assessment: ’Whether or not he was there as a journalist.... he placed the public at risk’. The case raises serious issues for press freedom and journalists’ rights. Michael Segalov challenged the refusal to accredit him for the 2017 Labour Party conference in Brighton, with support from the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom’s Legal Assistance service. As he is a political journalist, he claimed that this damaged his reputation and led to a loss of earnings.

Segalov won the case and was awarded costs against the Sussex Police. That is the local force whose senior officer, known as The Silver Commander, was in charge of security on the ground at the Brighton conference. In an atmosphere of political tension, security at the event was under scrutiny and press freedom under pressure: the BBC decided to hire a private bodyguard for its political editor Laura Kuensberg after she received threats. 

However, the recommendation to refuse Segalov’s accreditation came from a different police force three hundred kilometers away. Greater Manchester Police hosts the National Accreditation Centre and takes decisions on all requests to attend and cover events nationwide. Segalov’s case against the Greater Manchester Police was not upheld so he faces a bill for 15,000 pounds (17,400 euros) for costs in that aspect of the proceedings. 

What does this mean for press freedom?

Several aspects of the case are in clear breach of international standards for press and media freedom. Official accreditation of journalists for controversial political events is a continuing problem. That became clear in Hamburg, Germany at the 2017 G20 summit meeting and more recently in the case of foreign journalists whose accreditations were removed by the Turkish government. 

Gill Phillips, The Guardian's lawyer who is a member of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom's Legal Affairs Committee, comments:

"This case represents a good result for journalists. The Court recognised here that the role of journalists needs to be distinguished from that of members of the public. Importantly, Lord Justice Simon said "The issue of how a journalist should react when faced, at close quarters, with criminal activity (if such it is) is not straightforward. It is sufficient to say that, in this case, we do not consider that the fact that the claimant 'did not intervene or walk away' (see [Police Officer's] witness statement at §12) was a matter that could properly be taken into account to his discredit."

Factbox: 

Michael Segalov’s solicitor Ravi Naik and barrister Jude Bunting argued :

(1) the decision to refuse accreditation was procedurally unfair; 

(2) it was unlawful since it was made on the basis of an unpublished policy; 

(3) both Sussex Police and the GMP applied the wrong test in making the decision; 

(4) the decision was an infraction of the claimant's rights under article 8 of the ECHR; 

(5) the decision was in breach of the Data Protection Act 1998.

Sussex Police Chief Superintendent Derrick said in evidence that Segalov had attended a number of demonstrations which resulted in him being categorised as an Extreme Left-wing (XLW) activist, and that

The last incident, which related to Mr Segalov going with other activists when they released cockroaches and locusts in a Byron restaurant .. took no account of the potential risk to the public .. Whether or not he attended for the purposes of journalism or because he agreed with the actions... this incident suggested that he was willing to engage in or with those who took direct action which placed the public at risk.

After considering all the evidence, the judges, Lord Justice Simon and Mr Justice Warby, concluded that the procedure by which Michael Segalov was refused accreditation for the 2017 Labour Party conference was unlawful and must be quashed.

ECPMF Legal Advisor Flutura Kusari commented: 

"We are pleased that this case has had a successful outcome in terms of the right of journalists to be accredited to cover events, and to be fully informed of the reasons for any refusal, so that they may appeal in a timely and well-informed way. However we are concerned that the police in England, as elsewhere in Europe, seem to lack the knowledge and understanding of a journalist’s role in society that they really need in order to make these decisions."

The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom offers Legal Assistance to journalists and whistleblowers in the form of expertise or funding to pursue cases where press and media freedom is in question. To apply, please click here.



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