A journalists’ body has condemned as “wholly unacceptable” the policy of allowing the police to publish directly to newspaper websites.
As first reported on HTFP this month, Torbay Police published a story headlined ‘Who is this Man?’ alongside a picture of a crime suspect to the website of the Torquay Herald Express.
The move is part of a group-wide initiative by Herald Express publisher Local World to see more content generated directly by third party contributors, including public bodies.
LW chief executive David Montgomery defended the policy in an interview with HTFP last week, saying communications is “no longer the preserve of professional media owners.”
But the Chartered Institute of Journalists has strongly criticised the idea after the matter was discussed by its Professional Practices Board.
The board’s chair Amanda Brodie said: “It is not the job of newspapers to be a mouthpiece for the police or any other body – their job is to hold them to account, not cosy up to them in this way.
“Who is scrutinising and making the judgements over this content? It’s not an impartial, professional journalist acting as the eyes and ears of the public – it’s the chief of police.
“The first thing totalitarian states do to consolidate absolute power is seize control of the newspapers and TV stations. That is what’s happening here – by stealth, and under a parliamentary democracy.”
Added Amanda: “This policy will undermine the trust people have in the impartiality of their local papers. No local authority or commercial organisation should be allowed such access to the pages of our newspapers – it opens the door to bias and manipulation of news content.
“David Montgomery has attempted to defend his decision by saying that he has to ‘provide a gateway for community institutions.’ But this is not the local WI report – it is a powerful state-funded organisation which at national level has breached public trust in many areas and has been subject to little redress.
“This headlong-rush to cut costs by championing user-generated copy is costing journalists their jobs and has long-term consequences for the future of both the media industry and democracy as a whole.”
The story on the Herald Express website has since been taken down.