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AP, British Media Ordered to Give Riot Film to Police

April 20, 1990

LONDON (AP) _ The Associated Press, two British news agencies and a television company must hand over all film of a March 31 riot in London that left about 580 people injured, a judge ruled Friday.

At a hearing in the Old Bailey Central Criminal Court, Judge Neil Denison granted the police application. He rejected arguments that freedom of the press is paramount.

He said the right of the press to report freely and the need to trace serious offenders clashed and one had to give way.

″There are two conflicting areas of public interest,″ Denison said. ″They have to be weighed and balanced one against the other, and in a sense they are irreconcilable.″

The AP, the British domestic news agency Press Association, and London Weekend Television opposed the application on grounds it made them appear an arm of the police and endangered their photographers.

The fourth organization, Fleet Street News Agency, made no objection.

″If applications routinely succeed, there is a loss of the perceived independence of the media,″ Robin Oppenheim, legal counsel for the three news organizations, told the court.

Police had sought help from news organizations in identifying those who participated in the riot that engulfed Trafalgar Square and London’s theater district. The riot broke out after a demonstration against a new tax.

Britain’s 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act allows a judge to order news media to turn over material in the case of serious offenses.

On April 6, Denison ordered 25 British newspapers and TV companies to turn over their film to help identify rioters. Police then asked for film held by news agencies and London Weekend Television.

The order, which the judge is to sign Monday, means the AP and Press Association must give police all negatives of the riot.

But the judge said the AP, Press Association and London Weekend Television were right to oppose the application.

″Orders such as this should not be made as a matter of course,″ he said.

″It would be wrong if the media were to back down and concede every application that is made,″ he said. ″They are perfectly entitled to come to court and put their arguments.″

The violence broke out after demonstrators tried to storm Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s 10 Downing St. office. They then attacked police and rampaged across London’s West End.

Nearly 500 police officers and 86 civilians were injured, and hundreds of shops were looted and cars burned.

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