Council's CCTV footage owned by the public

OPINION

Dr Robert Carr's original letter, published in the Mercury on January 22, 2013

You say in your editorial (January 17) "On Wednesday afternoon, the Mercury made an informal, verbal request for the footage. We planned to post the video on our website and publish still photographs in the paper, in the hope that someone would identify the offender. That request was denied, with the council citing concerns about privacy issues. Yet, in our book, people who wantonly destroy or deface public property do not deserve any consideration of privacy. Judging by the posts on the Mercury website, our readers agree."

Council's response is in accordance with NSW law. The editorial is reminiscent of the 2011 Mercury coverage when, in supporting a misleading and unethical police campaign which claimed that violence in the city was "out of control", the Mercury's front page read (19.2.11): "Police say our politicians have failed us - and new curbs on pubs and clubs must be introduced. We agree. It's time to fight back. Time to reclaim our streets. Time to reclaim our CBD."

Back then the Mercury encouraged vigilantism, portraying a frenzy of community disharmony, a perception reinforced by the inclusion of still shots of the CCTV footage on its front page. All the while, crime rates had been dropping for several years - and the Mercury said nothing of these at the time.

Read the Mercury's response here

Now, it would appear the Mercury's editor is once again mining for controversy and encouraging vigilantism while advocating for the disregard of proper practice and lawfulness. Yet, none of the legislative and policy details are explained to your readers nor why they're important and upheld by government.

Council's footage is publicly owned, meaning the public has a stake in preventing it from being misused, misrepresented and shown out of context like the Mercury (and other media) did back in 2011. While police may be keen to release the footage (police are allowed to release it in certain circumstances), council's obligations are less black and white. You may recall that in August 2012, councillors unanimously endorsed a new draft CCTV policy which included the new term "false association".

This may at least in part explain council's hesitance to your request for copies.

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