In an exclusive interview with British broadcaster LBC, Hertfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner David Lloyd Thursday said that police “got it wrong” when they arrested reporter Charlotte Lynch during a Just Stop Oil protest this week. In total, three journalists were arrested while reporting on climate protests in the UK this week, raising concerns about freedom of the press.
Lynch described being arrested “almost immediately” despite showing her press card, and being searched twice and held in custody for five hours. “I was just doing my job,” Lynch wrote. “What’s absolutely terrifying is what this means for press freedom. It was blindingly obvious I was a reporter.”
Earlier this week, documentary filmmaker Rich Felgate and photographer Tom Bowles were also arrested on a suspicion of “conspiracy to cause public nuisance” while covering the protests. Felgate said that police had “no interest in seeing press ID” before bringing him into custody where he was held for 13 hours, and he alleged that police tried to get him to reveal his journalistic sources during questioning.
Despite apologizing for the arrests during the LBC interview, Lloyd suggested that members of the press were partially to blame for their coverage of the protests. “Your editorial policy needs to reflect whether or not we want to be part of the problem which is how Just Stop Oil are managing to get their message out there so very successfully,” he said. Journalist unions, human rights groups, and politicians have condemned the arrests. “No reporter or other bona-fide news gatherer should fear being placed in a cell for doing their job,” National Union of Journalists’ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said in a statement. Jun Pang, policy and campaign officer for UK human rights group Liberty, told CNN that the police had impinged on “basic rights and press freedoms.”
The UK is currently ranked number 24 out of 180 by Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index. The international non-profit has signalled concerns over reform to official secrets laws that could see journalists jailed for “espionage” and extensive restrictions over freedom of information.
The Hertfordshire police force has promised an independent inquiry into the arrests.