New police guidance on contact with journalists is unlikely to help improve relations between the two, the Society of Editors has claimed.
As reported on HTFP in May, the College of Policing has issued new draft guidance on media relations, including a long list of scenarios in which officers should seek the aid of their press offices before speaking directly to the media.
The guidelines also discourage use of the term ‘off the record’ to avoid “ambiguity” about how such information is used, instead urge the use of the terms ‘reportable’ and ‘non-reportable’ when dealing with journalists.
Said Bob: “We can appreciate that the police service generally may have been under pressure as has the press and indeed the whole of the media.
“That said, it is important that the activities of a small number of people and the intense but sometimes misguided political perceptions and reactions must not be allowed to undermine the important and valuable relationships that have worked for the benefit of the public in the past.”
The SoE said there was a “clear public interest” in healthy relationships between the two and argued that a practical and professional working relationship between the two could only benefit the public and improve public confidence in both institutions – citing comments in the Leveson report that supported this view.
Bob added: “Relationships need to be rebuilt, enhanced appropriately and maintained for the benefit of the police nationally to help improve public confidence in the police.
“While we welcome changes that have been made to the guidelines in the wake of discussions, we remain of the belief that while the latest document may serve its intended purpose within the police service it would not serve as a final practical guide for the media or one which media organisations could endorse. Its tone and nuances could in fact be unhelpful.”
According to the guidance, police officers should refer to a press officer before speaking to the media in the following non-exhaustive list of circumstances:
All incidents involving a fatality
All serious crime appeals
Media appeals for high-risk missing persons
Media appeals for wanted or dangerous persons
Release of any image of a known, named person (missing/wanted/convicted/subject to a court order or other legal restriction)
All matters relating to security or terrorism
A hate crime or hate incident
Critical incidents or those with organisational reputational vulnerability
Incidents involving high-profile figures such as celebrities or VIPs
Any incident declared serious or major
Any enquiry about sex offenders
Requests for evidential material
Appeals following arrest or charge
Interview requests relating to force policy
Anything relating to national media, including Crimewatch.
The Society of Editors has been working with the National Police Chiefs Council to suggest amendments to the draft guidelines alongside the News Media Association, the Media Lawyers’ Association and other organisations.