Central News attacks police picture licence

Barton said policy was outrageous

Central News in the West Midlands has criticised West Mercia police for imposing a photo licensing agreement that the broadcaster says interfered with editorial policy.

A row broke out after Central News was forced to sign a picture licence to use a photograph of a man subject to an anti-social behaviour order, compelling the broadcaster to use it only for a specific, one-off purpose.

The licence – issued by the police on behalf of Bromsgrove District Council, which owns the copyright to the photograph – entitled the news programme to use the photo for a news bulletin on 26 March, but forbade further use without permission. It also prevented its publication on the Central News website.

Central News had to agree “that the photograph will be broadcast/published only in accordance with the time period specified in this agreement… That the photograph(s) [or any copy taken] will only be used for the purpose the licence has been granted, ie in connection with the anti-social behaviour order, and will not be used for any other purpose, or on any future occasion, without the express, prior written permission of the council, through West Mercia Constabulary. West Mercia Constabulary for Bromsgrove reserves the right to demand payment for the use of the material in the event of any breach of the agreement.”

Central News editor Dan Barton described the policy as outrageous and said it smacked of “Big Brother”.

“I know of no other police force that attempts to licence the media in this way,” he said. “We object to these controls in principle. Who are they to make editorial judgements for us?

“If we’d taken our own photograph of the man, it wouldn’t have been a different picture and we’d of course use it over and over again. And as for not being able to publish it on the web, it just looks like the police are trying to squeeze money out of the TV and press boys. If we don’t stand up to it, who’ll be next?”

West Mercia police spokesman Carl Baldacchino said: “Like all organisations, we manage the release of our images to ensure that they are used responsibly and for the purpose for which they were released.

“We are not a picture or video library and to suggest that media organisations should be able to use any police images for ever and a day, without a subsequent request, is clearly wrong.” Baldacchino claimed that one unnamed media organisation’s reuse of video footage of an arrest had “put an officer’s life at risk” after the programme identified a uniformed officer who had moved on to work under cover.

“It is no wonder that we now exercise a greater level of control over images,” he said.

Another dispute took place between West Mercia police and the Daily Mirror and Daily Express, which continued using photographs of runaway couple Naomi Mills and Matthew Brooks in breach of the licence (Press Gazette, 14 March).

By Wale Azeez

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