The News Media Association – which represents the national, regional and local newspaper and magazine industries – has called on the Independent Police Complaints Commission to reconsider its rejection of a complaint by a reporter who was issued with a harassment notice.
The move puts further pressure on the IPCC, and the Metropolitan Police, over the Police Information Notice (PIN) issued in March last year to Gareth Davies, of the Croydon Advertiser, who was investigating allegations against Neelam Desai, who had already admitted frauds totalling £230,000,
The Metr have rejected Davies' complaint about the PIN, and the IPCC subsequently rejected a further complaint, saying that police officers were not obliged to conduct full investigations into claims of harassment before issuing such notices – even though they can be disclosed on criminal record checks with the Disclosure and Barring Service.
NMA chief executive has David Newell has written to IPCC chief executive Lesley Longstone expressing "the deepest concern" that PINs could be used against journalists simply seeking a response to a story.
Newell called on the IPCC to reconsider the decision relating to Davies.
In his letter, Newell also called for the IPCC to "lend careful thought" to the need for guidance for officers on the imposition of PINs in similar circumstances.
He wrote: "It is a matter of the deepest concern to us and our members that journalists complying with their ethical and legal responsibility of seeking a right of reply to, or comment on, a story they are investigating could have PINs imposed on them for doing nothing more than complying with the requirements to which they will be held by the Courts as a matter of defamation or by IPSO as a matter of accuracy.
"We accept, plainly, that such activity must have its limits.
"We encourage best practice by all our members and seek no carte blanche for the profession.
"However, what we do believe is clear is that no journalist acting in accordance with the provisions of the Editor's Code of Practice should find him or herself on the receiving end of a document which is, whatever its nature and limits, a creature of the criminal law."
Newell said Davies' position was that his attempts to contact Desai amounted to no more or less than the standard expected of journalists and publishers by the courts and as a matter of ethics.
He added: "I therefore ask that this case be reconsidered.
"In any case, this case demonstrates a clear need to consider the proper parameters by which the Police may consider imposing a PIN on a journalist, so that all parties can understand where the dividing line rests between journalistic best practice and unlawful harassment."
Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell has also written to the IPCC asking it to reconsider its decision.
He said the IPCC's ruling was "appalling" and said in his letter that it was "a very worrying attack on press freedom".
The letter, published on his website, was also sent to Home Secretary Theresa May, Justice Secretary Michael Gove and Culture Secretary John Whittingdale.
Meanwhile, more than 1,300 journalists, politicians and press freedom campaigners have signed a petition organised Press Gazette which calls on Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe to cancel the PIN.
The IPCC explained after rejecting Davies' complaint that it was satisfied that officers had followed the correct procedures, adding that while they "need to have a basis for the alleged harassment there is no requirement for an investigation".
An IPCC spokeswoman added: "The police service has its own guidance for the issuing of Police Information Notices, I would refer you to the MPS for that documentation."
Media Lawyer has asked the Metropolitan Police for a copy of its guidance to officers on issuing PINs, but has received no response to that request.
Scotland Yard also failed to respond to a question about whether allowing officers to issue a PIN without having to conduct an investigation could be said to reverse the principle that someone is innocent until proven guilty, and allowed them to assume that someone was guilty unless and until he or she could prove their innocence.
The Metropolitan Police issued the PIN after deciding that attempts by Davies to contact Desai went "beyond what was reasonable". It appeared to have accepted her claims that the journalist made repeated calls to her home and sent her a large number of emails.
Davies says he visited Desai's home only once, at the time the complaint was made, and also made just one attempt to contact her via a politely-worded email.