Newsflash: the police tell lies, they scheme and they manipulate. Every word they say, every line and sentence of every communication should be interrogated and challenged. Look behind their assertions and often you will find they are haphazard, incompetent and quite literally just making it up as they go along in the hope no one will challenge them. The emperor quite often has no clothes - Jamie Bryson.
An important court case concerning journalistic privilege took place in Belfast during the week. Not that its importance could be gleaned from the presence in court of members from the National Union of Journalists, either in support of its own colleague or out of interest in the issues under judicial scrutiny. There was no presence for the member in question, who is Jamie Bryson.
No NUJ officials attended Wednesday’s hearing. The union said while it had no input into Mr Bryson’s legal or campaign strategy, it would be following the case with interest.
From a strong loyalist background, Bryson has for years been a controversial figure due to his unremittingly strong views and his concomitant political activism that has on occasion led to him hearing a cell door slam behind him.
Bryson told TPQ:
PSNI came into my house, as part of a nonsense investigation into doormen (the first arrest ever in the UK for such a ‘crime’, usually people are just asked for interview at worst). They decided while they were there to just sweep up a raft of journalistic material including files about the Kingsmill massacre and the Breen and Buchanan killings, the original recording of the South Belfast exploitation tape and a journalistic notebook. They did this under an Article 10 PACE warrant, despite an Article 11 county court warrant being required.
In a blatant falsehood, the PSNI claimed in court not to have been aware that Bryson was a journalist with NUJ accreditation.
which is fascinating because PSNI and NCA recognised in writing in 2016 I was a journalist. And two weeks after my arrest PSNI came to ask me about the Roma exploitation issues and again recognised I am a journalist. So they knew in 2016, they knew in September 2018, but they just conveniently forgot in August 2018 for the purposes of securing a search warrant?
In light of this Bryson claims to have:
asked the NUJ for a public statement of support saying this was unacceptable, but they have provided nothing - despite the support they have shown to the Loughinisland journalists. If the principle of journalistic privilege is to apply then it has to apply to all those engaged in journalistic practices, whether they are popular or not.
According to the Sunday Life:
Bryson’s status as a journalist has been the subject of a major dispute with the Belfast branch of the NUJ whose senior members refuse to recognise him as a member. However, the union’s National Executive Council has upheld his membership.
NUJ Belfast’s attitude, if encapsulated in the hostility of its branch secretary, is dangerously corrosive of the ability of journalism to rise above particularism and defend the general principle which is under fire: that of journalistic protection from state intrusion.
Ciaran O Maolain has good reason to be ill disposed towards loyalism given that it was prepared to kill him. But to fail to park that hostility for the purposes of permitting a legal fight in defence of journalistic privilege to overtake it, is not best practice.
The state has come for the journalist Jamie Bryson. If journalists don’t say anything in "the second case before the Northern Ireland courts challenging the right of police to seize journalistic material that is apparently unconnected to the investigation they are conducting" … Pastor Niemöller long ago explained the consequences.
This makes it even more important for the NUJ to step up to the plate and defend its member on the issues pertaining to journalism. It is not expected to defend Bryson on the matter of PSNI allegations that he illegally provided doormen to clubs. The courts can rule on that. His political views or his activism can continue to be abhorred by NUJ members.
Bryson observes that:
many journalists stood outside the police station protesting with Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey. Would the same journalists stand shoulder to shoulder with me given that journalistic material has been taken from me unlawfully?
It is magnanimous if that they do; myopic if they don't.
Anthony McIntyre blogs @ The Pensive Quill.
Follow Anthony McIntyre on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre