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Coalition of industry bodies publishes report

Building trust between journalists and police officers is key to re-establishing the relationship between the wider police and media, a coalition of industry bodies has urged.

Coalition of industry bodies publishes report
Rebecca Camber: “The relationship between the press and police is broken and must be rebuilt.”

A report, ‘Police and the Media: Repairing the Relationship’, published today sets out 26 recommendations to restore trust between police officers and journalists. The review from the Crime Reporters Association (CRA), Society of Editors (SoE) and Media Lawyers Association (MLA) warns that the ‘pendulum has swung too far’ and urgent changes are needed.

The publication of today’s recommendations by the industry bodies comes ahead of a police and media roundtable taking place next week which has been organised by the National Police Chiefs’ Council looking at how to rebuild the policing and media relationship. The workshop follows the publication last year of Lancashire Police’s review into the handling of the investigation into Nicola Bulley and an acknowledgement by the College of Policing that relations between the police and media remain ‘fractured’ and that action is needed to ‘rebuild’ and strengthen it for the benefit of the public.

The recommendations are designed to help forces deal with all reporters, including those who may have no prior experience of crime reporting, and it is hoped that, if endorsed by police chiefs, the changes would be beneficial to policing as well as the wider public.

Rebecca Camber, chair of the CRA and author of the report wrote: “The relationship between the press and police is broken and must be rebuilt. The Nicola Bulley investigation review revealed for the first time that this isn’t just an issue for journalists, it is a problem for police and ultimately the public who have lost faith in ordinary officers who put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe.

“There are major benefits for forces in opening up and being more transparent about officers’ work. Fundamentally, the police and the media need to start talking to each other again, trusting each other, telling the public about some of the heroic, often thankless work police do, day-in day-out. We need to change the perception from chief constable to PC level that it is the media who are the problem. We believe the media could be part of the solution for policing if we work together to rebuild the public’s trust and confidence.”

As part of the 26 recommendations, the coalition has called for press officers to be allowed to make their own “reasoned judgements in individual cases” when confirming details of investigations; training for all ranks to promote a better professional relationship between police and the media as well as more routine use of reportable and non-reportable guidance in major incidents to prevent panic caused by social media speculation, misinformation and rumour.

Camber said: “If Lancashire Police had been able to have a non-reportable briefing with reporters at the outset about the direction of the investigation, this would have prevented some of the speculation that dogged the Nicola Bulley investigation.

“Police forces need to understand that in a vacuum of information there will be speculation. There is no use in complaining about speculation, forces should address it by informing the individual reporter concerned or the media as a whole, either by issuing a statement clarifying the position or providing non-reportable guidance.

“The growth of social media and online reporting has only increased the appetite for information and accelerated the speed with which a story can develop. Although the mainstream media cannot control what goes on social media, there is no question that the press has an influence and responsible reporting can quickly quash rumours circulating. If officers take journalists into their confidence, there are real benefits for policing. A successful working relationship between police forces and reporters remains essential to public confidence and policing legitimacy in the UK.”

Dawn Alford, executive director of the Society of Editors said: “The College of Policing has rightly recognised that urgent action is needed to re-set and rebuild the relationship between the police and the media which, for too long, has been mired by wrongful perceptions and mistrust. Our joint report offers some key recommendations that would help restore trust and a better working relationship between officers and journalists for the ultimate benefit of the public. We now look forward to the College’s response to our recommendations which we hope they can endorse with a view to working together to drive forward much-needed change.”

John Battle KC (Hon) on behalf of the Media Lawyers Association said: “In an age of fake news and conspiracy theory, it’s vital that journalists can provide facts to the public about crime in our society. The public deserve accurate information. This forward- thinking report makes many practical suggestions to improve lines of communication between the police and the media."

The full set of recommendations by the Crime Reporters Association, Society of Editors and Media Lawyers Association can be found here.

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