Anthony Longden, left, who served as managing editor of Newsquest’s North and East London titles for six years, says police forces now have a “preoccupation” or “obsession” with reputation which is impacting on journalists’ work.
In a piece for In Publishing magazine, Anthony cited examples including the case of former Croydon Advertiser chief reporter Gareth Davies, who had to fight for two years to have a harassment warning issued against him for doorstepping a convicted fraudster revoked.
In July, Society of Editors executive director Bob Satchwell criticised new draft guidance issued on media relations by the College of Policing which featured a long list of scenarios in which officers should seek the aid of their press offices before speaking directly to journalists.
Anthony, who became a consultant to the SoE after leaving Newsquest in 2012, said the current climate of relations between police and the media had become “unhealthy.”
Hewrote: “Somewhere along the line, and it’s hard to pin down precisely when this happened, there was a fundamental shift in police attitudes to the media – a move from operational even-handedness towards a suspicious, controlling and often slightly paranoid corporate disposition.
“Despite what many might think, this certainly pre-dates Leveson and revelations of over-cosiness that only ever reflected one particular section of our industry. There is now a preoccupation – some would say an obsession – with reputation.
“This recalibration is proving toxic and lies behind rather too many examples of unabashed misapplication of the law, and these are having a serious impact on the work of journalists. It is so bad now, that if you mention ‘mutual trust’ to either a journalist or a police officer, you’ll almost certainly be laughed at.
“However bad the ups and downs of the past, a way through could almost always be found by getting key people round a table and getting down to some plain talking negotiation. But the industry has been bemused and genuinely disturbed by the way in which the police no longer seem willing to listen to us, much less co-operate.”
He concluded: “The police have an increasingly difficult job to do. Budget cuts are coinciding with a heightened terrorist threat and increased public mistrust. Members of the public need to understand those challenges, and one of the best ways for the police to explain them is still through the media.
“Somehow, we need to accept that the current climate is unhealthy and mutually counterproductive, and find the vision and courage to re-start media-police relations that are free from prejudice and paranoia. We simply can’t afford not to.”