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Police officers should 'exercise caution' when asking to view images captured by members of the media, according to amended advice to officers published by London's police force, the Metropolitan Police Service.

The Met faced criticism from the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) last month when it published guidance that did not recognise the special rights of the media.

The guidance now makes it clear that a court order could be needed to view images captured by members of the media and warns officers to be careful.

"Where it is clear that the person being searched is a journalist, officers should exercise caution before viewing images as images acquired or created for the purposes of journalism may constitute journalistic material and should not be viewed without a Court Order," says the guidance, in a passage which did not appear in the original.

The new guidance also makes it clearer that searches of photos or video are only allowed when an officer suspects the person being searched of being a terrorist.

"Officers have the power to stop and search a person who they reasonably suspect to be a terrorist," says the new guidance. "The purpose of the stop and search is to discover whether that person has in their possession anything which may constitute evidence that they are a terrorist."

The original advice had suggested that the power could be used to determine if the images were "of a kind, which could be used in connection with terrorism".

The guidance also makes it clear that people are entitled to film and photograph in public whether or not they are media professionals.

"Members of the public and the media do not need a permit to film or photograph in public places and police have no power to stop them filming or photographing incidents or police personnel," it says.

The NUJ welcomed the changes. "It is good to see that the police have listened to some of what we’ve been saying and the new guidance is certainly an improvement," said Roy Mincoff, the NUJ's legal officer. "We still have significant concerns about the way counter-terrorism legislation is being used to impinge on media freedoms, so it is vital that any guidance issued by the police is accurate and recognises the importance of a free press."

“Let’s hope that this marks a recognition on the part of the police that they must take the concerns of photojournalists seriously. We will be monitoring to see if the changes are reflected in practice," said Mincoff.

The new guidance for officers can be read here.

Copyright © 2009, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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