Police and video footage: rules and fair play

Police officers cannot delete or seize photos and videos without a magistrate’s warrant. The case of Cosimo Caridi in Rome is emblematic.

The unorthodox treatment meted out on the 10th December 2019 to the journalist Cosimo Caridi by two officers of the Rome municipal police shows how necessary a dialogue is between reporters and law enforcement agencies to avoid misunderstandings, clashes and incidents. Many of these incidents could be avoided with a greater mutual understanding, promoting meetings and training courses to make each party better understand the needs and prerogatives of the other.

In this sense, this incident has shown how necessary, useful and relevant is the European Code of Conduct for the Police (see here) presented a few days ago in Brussels by a group of non-governmental associations, among which Ossigeno per l’Informazione ( Oxygen for Information) .

The purpose of this Code is precisely to indicate some guidelines for those who intend to intervene with professional training and promoting dialogue between journalists’ organizations and law enforcement agencies, to prevent some truly unspeakable incidents such as this due, at least in part, to the lack of knowledge of the legislation that allows journalists to do their job and enables the police to identify them.

The guidelines develop the principles and laws governing the rights of reporters also those who report using the camera who, let’s admit it, are not a different and inferior breed but are those who are in the front line and are therefore more exposed than others to immediate retaliation. Certainly they also must respect the rules and exercise fair play something that is not always respected.

The Code re-states, among other things, the limitations within which a police officer in the public order service can legitimately exercise his powers over a reporter who is doing his job and who, therefore, exercises a function of public interest.

The Code says that there are some things police officers cannot really do. For example they cannot prevent video recording of a police operation taking place in a public place nor can they insist on not being filmed while engaged in those duties. They cannot order the deletion of filming carried out or the seizure or destruction of rolls and memory cards.

Police officers can do other things, but only if they have a specific mandate from a magistrate.

It seems that in the case of Cosimo Caridi, stopped and arrested for interrupting public services, some of these limitations have not been fully respected. The video of the protests that have been made by him is a small encyclopaedia of the excited atmosphere that accompanies many public order operations. A partly understandable atmosphere, even without the arrogance and ignorance of basic legislation that emerge from numerous incidents. Regardless of the Rome incident, which is only the starting point for these reflections, it seems that ignorance of the law which – in some cases – allow journalists to work without any authorization from the police officers involved on the site of the protest is rather widespread, and not their principal responsibility.

Therefore it would be useful to promote meetings between police officers and reporters, in the presence of experts on the right to information who can provide a clear picture of the prerogatives of each party.

Ossigeno has long been proposing initiatives of this type which are, inter alia, in the protocols suggested by international organizations. It is time to systematically organize these “close encounters of the third type” in 2020.


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