Two regional editors have told the Leveson Inquiry that police press officers are restricting the flow of information to journalists and the public.
Adrian Faber, editor of the Express and Star, and Tim Gordon, editor of the South Wales Echo, were giving evidence to the inquiry on press standards yesterday.
Both said that the involvement of police press offices acted as a “barrier to information” about the extent of crime in local areas.
Tim said press officers could be “terribly slow” at releasing information, while Adrian suggested they were seeking to “manipulate” public perceptions of crime levels.
Said Tim: “I understand from talking to my reporters that it can be difficult to get information quickly from the police, who tend to channel most things through their press office.
“The police tend to be willing to release information when it suits their agenda…but the police can be terribly slow at releasing information or even confirming information on incidents that are happening/ongoing.
“My view is that press offices have value and are needed to co-ordinate briefings across the media sector. They also allow officers to get on with the job in hand.
“However they can be a barrier to information being released and they can be slow to grant access.”
Adrian said that the introduction of press officers at West Midlands Police had created “a tier of bureaucracy” between journalists and police officers.
“It regularly makes it difficult to get a clear picture and detailed information about an incident…I think it’s fair to say that in consequence the vast majority of crime and criminal activity that does not end up in court goes unreported.
Adrian said press officers “did not have the tme or resource to deal with enquiries about low-level crime which is of interest to our readers.
“Inevitably, I argue that it is far better to release the information and make residents aware, than it is to try to manipulate their perceptions by withholding the detail.”
The editors were also asked about whether their journalists had provided hospitality to police officers.
Adrian reveealed that the Express & Star’s crime reporter had taken police officers to watch Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Bromwich Albion football matches on several occasions.
“We have a corporate hospitality arrangement with both Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Bromwich Albion and regularly take contacts and advertisers to local football matches. The hospitality at the football matches involved a meal, drinks and watching the game.
“On four or five occasions in the past five years, our crime reporter has taken police officers out for a drink. This has been an informal way of discussing our work.”