Regional editors have defended the right of journalists to talk directly to police officers as they gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry.
But they hit out at what one called a “gradual closing down’ of information from local police forces to the point where much crime was now going unreported in the press.
Eight editors from across the UK gave evidence to Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into press standards yesterday.
They were: Maria McGeoghan, of the Manchester Evening News, John McLellan of The Scotsman, Mike Gilson of the Belfast Telegraph, Peter Charlton of the Yorkshire Post, Spencer Feeney of the the South Wales Evening Post, Nigel Pickover of the Ipswich Evening Star, Jonathan Russell of The Herald, Glasgow, and Noel Doran, editor of the Irish News.
Lord Leveson asked what sort of guidance should be issued to staff in relation to off-the-record conversations with police officers.
John McLellan said: “I think the principle of reporters talking to other members of the human race on an on or off the record basis should not be up for debate.
“It’s part of our function to talk to people, be they police officers or any other members of establishment bodies. For us to limit who we can and can’t talk to would be contrary to everything that we’re about.
“If police forces or health boards want to ban their employees from talking to us, that’s a different matter. But for us to instruct our people not to talk to people, that would be very strange.”
Mike Gilson added: “I have to say that the way information is closed off these days by organisations employing huge numbers of press officers to stop the sort of thing you’re talking about is enormous. In some areas press officers outnumber journalists.
“My experience is a gradual closing down of these things to the point where it’s bad for democracy. The amount of crime that happened in your patch hardly gets reported.”