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Paper barred after refusing to sign police guarantee

A local newspaper was barred from a police photocall after refusing to give guarantees on how the material would be used.

The Epping Forest Guardian was notified earlier this week about a photocall at a huge cannabis factory which had been uncovered by Essex Police.

But the paper, along with other media, was asked to sign an indemnity form which, among other things, asked them to give an undertaking that no material would be used in a way that was “detrimental” to the force.

In line with a long-standing company policy, the Newsquest-owned title refused to sign the guarantee and bosses have now written to the police asking for further discussions.

The form asked media companies to guarantee that material will not be “archived” for future use and will be used only in connection with the immediate “purpose” of the photocall.

Anthony Longden, managing editor of Newsquest’s North and East London division which includes the Guardian series, said the form’s contents were “unreasonable.”

He told HTFP: “Our policy on indemnity forms is certainly nothing new – we don’t sign them because they make what we consider to be unreasonable demands, and we prefer to protect our independence and our journalistic material.

“It has never caused any operational difficulties in the past. I think the difficulty this time is that a press briefing was arranged in a place the police wanted covered by an indemnity form.”

Mr Longden said he would be contacting Essex Police to discuss the issue, which he said could have been caused by a “misunderstanding.”

But a police spokesman said other media groups had signed the form and Newsquest was the only organisation that appeared to have a problem with it.

“It’s a national form and the purpose of it is to ensure that the material they gather is used for the right purpose, and not used for some later story which is totally unrelated,” he said.

“I am aware that some have refused to sign it but they have missed out on a major opportunity. For this particular newspaper, it was probably their main story for this week’s edition.”


Cantona (12/11/2009 09:14:02)
That police press statement says everything you need to know about smug, controlling and arrogant police press departments we have to deal with every single day.
Well done Newsquest for sticking to your guns

Beckham (12/11/2009 09:40:27)
I agree with Cantona. The police in some areas also have a ‘no web’ policy which makes no sense either. A rapist is locked up for x years and his mugshot makes a poster splash – but it can’t be put on the web.
The police treat us like the enemy, in my experience.

LJ (12/11/2009 09:56:43)
Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more apparent that the Police regard journalists, photographers and anyone else who has an ability or responsibility to report the truth about a situation with complete contempt. We now appear to be living under one of the most oppressive regimes in the free world with regard to individual and press freedom. The signs are this will only get worse.
We’ll soon have a network of secret informants telling the Police what each of us is up to …. oh hang on we’re also the most monitored country with CCTV in the world so thats already the case anyway.
I make the same call to the Police as I have done on many occasions. Start acting like the PUBLIC SERVANTS which you are, and stop arrogantly trying to be the PUBLIC MASTERS which you believe yourselves to be.

richard meredith (12/11/2009 10:25:06)
Well done Tony Longden and Newsquest. Thank God some principles of good journalism are still alive. Now can we know those who did sign – so they can be named and shamed?

Tigger (12/11/2009 11:11:56)
Anthony is spot on in standing up to the info stasi. Since the introduction on press departments the police have systematically tried to increase control over the nature of media output and the way in which the press behaves toward them. A blow for freedom of speech, democracy and the press. Orwell drones beware!

JP Snapper (12/11/2009 11:48:59)
It’s rather telling, I think, that the police spokesman is quoted as saying that Newsquest was the only organisation not to have signed the form, immediately before he goes on to say that he is “aware that some have refused to sign.” Which is it, I wonder.
Either way, those who did sign want shooting – and not with a camera.
So the cops busted a big dope farm. Whoop de doo.
On my patch, dope farms are ten a penny, to the point where I imagine readers are sick of hearing about them.
I guess it’s a similar story on the EF Guardian’s patch.
So to bend over for the cops on such a restrictive demand on such a mundane story seems particularly spineless.
One can understand the argument that we all need to maintain a good relationship with the police, so maybe the editors who did sign are worried about queering their pitch with their local force, but solidarity in refusing them their unreasonable demand would send a clear signal to the cops that they can’t manipulate coverage the way they increasingly want to.
And, as they need us at least as much as we need them, a mature, mutual backscratching relationship could be established.

Steve Hook (12/11/2009 12:16:50)
Anthony Longden was quite right. I might have missed something but I thought the end of the cold war meant we had defeated the ideology which calls for state control of the media.

Bluestringer (12/11/2009 12:20:40)
Police press officers are getting way above themselves.
Looks like they’ve been taking news management lessons off their best friends the local council spin doctors and want to have all editors “on side” OR ELSE!
Well done, Anthony.

Desk Jockey (12/11/2009 13:34:54)
Well done for taking the stand – my local force has spent more than £700,000 on its PR in the past two years, yet the amount of information we receive is lamentable.
There is a clear ‘don’t tell the media’ policy wherever they think they can get away with it, and their manipulation of Home Office crime figures sees them putting out only the information on figures which ave improved. They are then surprised when reporters go to the source for the real figures and find out that some crime figures have risen significantly. And who is paying the PR wages? Yep, that would be us….

Hacked off (12/11/2009 14:47:30)
Cantona is right. Although this sort of problem is becoming more and more commonplace, particularly in Essex. Why is it these press officers are given so much power, they think (despite essentially being paid by taxpayers) that they can censor what information the public and press are given and whether or not officers can speak to reporters. more disturbingly they act as though they are more knowledgeable and important than the sworn officers they are meant to be representing, when actually most of them haven’t even got a scoobie about media law.
Essex Police should be ashamed of themselves, but then there press office exists purely to be obstructive to journalists. leave the talking to the coppers and get rid of the overpaid, obstructive nitwits.

Norman (12/11/2009 15:38:42)
Suppose Anthony Longden had signed the indemnity then just gone ahead and used the material in ‘detrimental’ way. Who would define what ‘detrimental’ was? How would the police be able to enforce their wishes? I can’t imagine any action getting very far in a court of law.

Alex Luthor (12/11/2009 15:58:55)
How typical of the police ‘service’ – if it’s not trying to suppress stories with ridiculous guarantee forms then it’s issuing public appeals two months after the crime takes place, taking weeks to respond to inquiries or simply not answering the phone.
What have they got to hide?

Dickens (12/11/2009 16:59:16)
On our patch they now routinely warns us off visiting the relatives of people killed or badly injured in crimes or accidents, saying the relatives have said they do not want us
round there. Guess what when we ignored them once and went round? The family were only to happy and hadn’t said anything of the sort. Who do they think they are? Obviously not public servants on the taxpayers’ payroll.

Dr Spin (13/11/2009 16:50:38)
As a member of a smug, controlling and arrogant police press dept I feel very hurt at all these nasty comments. I might even cry. Many of these depts are actually staffed by former journalists who’ve got sick of the poor pay, conditions and working practices of newspapers. What are local newspapers if not selective and controlling of the news agenda dependant on the personal whims or political interests of their editors. From a personal point of view I can’t see the justification of using an indemnity form for a case such as this. I’ve never employed one myself (I’m old fashioned and work on trust) but I’ve heard of them being used in case of high national security such as terror related cases or ones of extreme high sensitivity. Unfortunately maybe it reflects a lack of trust between this particular force and its media. Remember don’t tar us all with the same brush- we’re only smug and arrogant to people who ask silly questions. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

Emma Grogan (15/11/2009 16:54:36)
Too right Mr Longden. Kick their ass for this Stalinist behaviour. Too many newspaper execs are cravenly bowing to this kind of arrogance. Remind the cops that it is they who need you and not the other way around. If they don’t like YOUR terms, tell them to shove the story and refer them to the advertising department where they can book paid-for space on whatever terms they want. Mind you, Greater Manchester Police are even worse – ask any journos up there.

Emma Grogan (15/11/2009 16:55:36)
Too right Mr Longden. Kick their ass for this Stalinist behaviour. Too many newspaper execs are cravenly bowing to this kind of arrogance. Remind the cops that it is they who need you and not the other way around. If they don’t like YOUR terms, tell them to shove the story and refer them to the advertising department where they can book paid-for space on whatever terms they want. Mind you, Greater Manchester Police are even worse – ask any journos up there.