Culture

Yes, You’re Allowed To Film The Police. In Fact, You Probably Should.

The violent footage from Sydney's Mardi Gras offers another sobering reminder of why we need to know our rights.

“Stop filming, mate,” barked a NSW police officer, as he stood on the back of distraught Mardi Gras reveller Jamie Jackson just moments after violently throwing the already hand-cuffed 18-year-old to the ground off Oxford Street. The now-viral footage that captured the exchange between a bystander and police officer ‘FAIRFIELD LAC 266’ (aka the most unpopular person in Australia at the moment) has sparked public outrage, forcing NSW Police to launch a full internal investigation into this and other counts of police brutality at this year’s Mardi Gras event in Sydney over the weekend. (If like us you’d rather it were a public investigation, you can sign right here.)

Police: What are you filming for?
Bystander: Because I’m allowed to.
Police: No you’re not.
Police: Stop filming.
Bystander: Why?
Police: Because I said.

According to the description posted alongside the video, the bystander (who had been working as a press photographer at the event) started filming after the officer “grabbed him [Jamie Jackson] by the back of the neck and slammed his head into the stone pavement”.  When told to stop filming, he and other bystanders could be heard telling police, “I know it’s not against the law.”

While it may work for your mum, the “Because I said so” defence doesn’t work for the Po Po. As confirmed by NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Murdoch in a press conference this morning, it is not against the law to film police (or anyone) in a public place. “We encourage people to film incidents to help gather evidence, and we also use video cameras ourselves,” the Commissioner said. “The officer will be taken aside and this policy will be reinforced loud and clear.”

In fact, the right to film in public is part of Common Law, says Secretary of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties Stephen Blanks. “In a free society you’re allow to do anything so long as it’s not prohibited by law. There is no law that prohibits filming in a public place. Indeed the media rely heavily on the right to film in public places to produce news and other programs, so it’s an absolutely fundamental right of any free society that things which occur in public can be filmed.”

“It’s very disappointing to know that the police who claim to know the law either choose to disobey their instructions, or are just so ignorant that they made mistakes. But it’s very important that the public know their rights, and are able to assert them.”

So, what should you do if you find yourself in a situation where your armature footage could bring some justice to this crazy world? “Know the law. Know that you do have a right to film in public, and that you’re exercising your citizen rights,” Blanks says. “It’s very disappointing to know that the police who claim to know the law about these things either choose to disobey their instructions, or are just so ignorant that they made mistakes. But it’s very important that the public know their rights and are able to assert them.” Last year the Victorian government ran a 3-month trial of Body Worn Video, in which selected officers wore cameras on their uniforms. Similar initiatives have been proposed in NSW and, according to Mr. Blanks, are necessary to keep police accountable. “The NSW Council of Civil Liberties supports police wearing cameras as part of their uniform so long as the cameras can’t be turned off.”

Jamie Jackson, who was initially charged for the heinous crime of “offensive language”, will now face court on April 1, under charges of assaulting police and resisting arrest.