After 'voyeurism' ... other activities that journalists should avoid if they don't want to get arrested

The news that a Mail on Sunday reporter was questioned about criminal voyeurism after investigating a story shows that the police will use any law to harass journalists.

With this in mind, I have prepared this list of 11 other dangerous activities.

If you don't want the 6am knock from your local constabulary, make sure you avoid:

  1. Washing people’s dirty linen in public. It is a common law offence to erect a washing line across a street.
  2. Using a pencil to take notes. If, like me, you were taught to do shorthand with a pencil, beware. You could be arrested under the Pencils and Graphic Instruments (Safety) Regulations if you did so before 1998.
  3. Rummaging down contacts’ dustbins. That’s what we used to do before phone hacking. But if you try it now, you could breach the EU Waste Framework Directive.
  4. Phoning a contact with a mobile phone. Take care. Your phone might be faulty, and put you in breach of the EU General Product Safety Directive.
  5. Charging up your business phone. Check that the charger is properly labelled under the EU's Energy Labelling Directive. Breach this, and it's not just your phone that will get charged.
  6. Going undercover to investigate elderly Chelsea FC players. Dangerous. It’s potential fraud to impersonate a Chelsea pensioner.
  7. Writing the headline: ‘MP gets a rocket.’ This could put you in breach of the Regulation of the Fireworks Regulations 2004.
  8. Going to a football club’s photocall. It’s risky if they hold it on the pitch. You could be charged with 'going onto the playing area' under s4 of the Football Offences Act 1991.
  9. Giving a police officer a lift. The Metropolitan Police Act 1839 makes it an offence to carry a plank along the pavement.
  10. Writing the lead. News hounds – beware. Article 3 of the Control of Dogs Order 1992 restricts the use of dog leads. 
  11. Peddling your freelance work. You could be fined under Pedlars Act 1971. This law prohibits ‘selling or ordering for sale your skills in handicrafts.’

I could also warn about being arrested under counter-terrorism laws for taking photos. Or being warned under data protection legislation when covering school nativity plays.

But no-one would ever take me seriously.

Cleland Thom is media law consultant and trainer

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