the New Public Order Act has journalists covered

The UK’s new Public Order Act has recently sparked a heated debate surrounding freedom of speech, criminalising a wide range of protest behaviours – always a sign of a healthy democracy, when the passing of this and NatCon can happen in the space of a few weeks.

Under the new Act, protestors can be arrested for ‘locking on’ to buildings or objects, which could result in a year-long jail term or an unlimited fine. The same punishment applies to those who obstruct key infrastructure. Police have also had their stop-and-search powers beefed up even further.

But, it adds new protection for journalists covering protests, who now cannot be arrested for reporting on the scene. The police can still, however, lawfully exercise their powers ‘to maintain public order and public safety’ or for other so-called legitimate purposes.

With this Act in place, it seems journalists are set for an easier ride when caught in the chaos of protests than they have had until now. Over the last year, many incidents have occurred of journalists being arrested for being at the scene and reporting protests. 

Journalist Peter Macdiarmid was arrested while covering a Just Stop Oil protest near an M25 service station last August. The arrest happened despite him having a valid press card and camera. He was told he was being arrested for criminal damage and aggravated trespass.

Rich Felgate and Tom Bowles were also arrested during the same protest. Both peacefully asserted that they were journalists filming from a public area and offered to show their press cards, but were instead detained for over 12 hours.

Charlotte Lynch was arrested while reporting on the Just Stop Oil protest on 8 November 2022. Despite standing well clear of the protest and showing a valid press card, she was accused of conspiracy to commit public nuisance. She was handcuffed and held in a cell for five hours. 

So, when the public is out getting arrested for fighting for equality or against climate change, journalists can film from the sidelines in peace. Seems fair, right?