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June 16, 2017

Key highlights from updated police guidance on working with the media

By Freddy Mayhew

Guidelines for police in England and Wales on how to deal with the media have been updated following a six-week consultation with the public, press and regional police forces.

Key highlights from the new media relations guidance for police, published this week, include:

Defining speaking terms

All parties should understand in advance the terms on which a briefing or conversation with the media is taking place. Avoid the term ‘off the record’ as the basis for a conversation as it can create ambiguity over how information is to be used and risk the perception of inappropriate or confidential information disclosure. Always assume that a conversation is reportable unless expressly agreed otherwise in advance.

Can police officers and staff talk to the media without a press officer present? (From Q&A on guidance)

Yes. The guidance is very clear that the overriding principle is that if someone is responsible for communicating about the issues and there is a policing purpose for doing so – they should go ahead. That is the main test.

Officers around the country are communicating every day without direct oversight from corporate communications. This is being done in many different ways including hundreds of officers who publish directly to the public through their own social media accounts or speak directly to reporters covering their patch.

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It is good practice to have a press officer present when conducting a media interview if it is likely to address significant, national issues. Press officers are not there to obstruct the free flow of information to the media, they are there to add professional advice.

In practice people will make judgements about when they have a press officer present, as they always have.

Reporting from a scene

Reporting or filming from the scene of an incident is part of the media’s role and they should not be prevented from doing so from a public place. Police have no power or moral responsibility to stop the filming or photographing of incidents or police personnel. It is for the media to determine what is published or broadcast, not the police. Once an image has been recorded, the police have no power to seize equipment, or delete or confiscate images or footage without a court order.

Where police have designated a cordoned area, the media must respect it in the same way as the public, unless a media facility within a cordoned area has been authorised by police. The best possible vantage point for media should be considered, providing it does not compromise operational needs.

Recording contact with the media

 Chief officers should record all their contact with the media where policing matters are discussed. This record should be publically available. A brief record that the conversation has taken place and its subject matter is sufficient. Informal or chance meetings where work-related issues are not discussed need not be recorded.

Naming on arrest

 Police will not name those arrested, or suspected of a crime, save in exceptional circumstances where there is a legitimate policing purpose to do so… A legitimate policing purpose may include circumstances such as a threat to life, the prevention or detection of crime, or where police have made a public warning about a wanted individual.

 Responding to enquiries about arrests

 If a name or names are put to the police with a request for confirmation of an arrest the response should be ‘we neither confirm nor deny’. No guidance should be given. Police should not respond by supplying other information that, although not directly naming an arrested person, would nevertheless have the effect of confirming the person’s identity.

Naming on charge

 Those charged with an offence should be named unless there is an exceptional and legitimate policing purpose for not doing so or reporting restrictions apply… This includes those who receive a summons to court.

Identifying victims or other witnesses

The name of a victim will not normally be released unless a victim consents to being identified.

Police under investigation

Police misconduct hearings are now heard in public and police communications should reflect such openness. It is important for public confidence in policing that the police service is open and transparent about actions and decisions relating to allegations of wrongdoing by its officers and staff, consistent with the Code of Ethics.

The police response to allegations of misconduct or crimes by officers and the related employment status of police officers are a matter of considerable and legitimate public interest. Media lines should be proactively released if officers are charged in relation to off-duty activities that involve serious criminality (eg, sexual offences, serious assaults, fraud or corruption) or matters that could seriously damage public confidence in the police service or call its integrity into question.

The misconduct and discipline system for police staff is conducted separately from that for officers and is not subject to the same statutory regulation. Wherever possible, however, the media lines should reflect the same approach as outlined for officers.

Freedom of Information

Every request for information should be assessed on its own specific facts. If a member of the media requests information not on the force website but which is readily available, it should be routinely provided by the press office.

In cases where it would require a disproportionate amount of time to secure the information, or if it is unclear that it should be released, the media representative may be referred to the force’s freedom of information team. Each force should have its own publication scheme which will be useful for the media.

The College ran a public consultation on media relations from 26 May to 8 July 2016. The consultation received 49 responses, including from the BBC, Associated Newspapers Society of Editors, Guardian News and Media and Hacked Off.

College of Policing chief executive Alex Marshall said: “Communicating openly and professionally with the media is an important part of the way in which the police are held to account.

“It can help the public understand the work of the police and engage them in preventing crime. Our communication should meet the highest standards of integrity, accountability and openness, at every level of policing.”

Deputy chief constable Gareth Morgan, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for media relations, added: “A successful working relationship between police and the media is vital. In the routine, that relationship works well.

“In some situations where the police service’s primary duty to protect the public and prevent crime can come before sharing information, these guidelines can assist clear and consistent decision-making.

“They encourage openness and transparency, while recognising the responsibility of the police to safeguard confidential information and act with professionalism and integrity.”

The News Media Association said it had “highlighted concerns over the deterioration in police relations and the damaging effect of the overly restrictive guidance and practice implemented post-Leveson, including using RIPA powers inappropriately against journalists and their sources”.

The organisation, which represents news publishers in the UK, added that it “will seek to ensure that the operation of the Media Relations Guidance is closely monitored, instituting a system whereby examples of police misinterpretation and other problems can be quickly reported and corrected”.

The update replaces the 2010 Communications Advisory Group’s guidance and the College of Policing’s 2013 Guidance on Relationships with the Media.

Read the full media guidance for police.

Picture: Reuters/Craig Brough

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