It seems to me that the untold story about Elizabeth Filkin’s report into Met Police dealings with the media is that over 56 pages she has brought to light no new evidence of improper dealings that I can see.
But beyond her rather obvious advice that police officers shouldn’t get legless with journalists or be taken in by flirting, she has some sensible suggestions.
In particular she says this:
…more, not less, contact with the media as a whole is essential, providing it is open and recorded. However it is important that the public are informed through all media outlets, not just the national print press, because different sections of the public use media in different ways.
It seems only sensible that police who talk to journalists should take a note of their meetings:
I recommend that all police officers and staff who provide information to the media should make a brief personal record of the information they provide. This record should be available if required by a line manager. Some of these records will be audited on a random basis. Wherever possible, published information should be attributed to the person giving it or more generally to the MPS.
On the booze front, she doesn’t out and out ban police officers having the odd pint with journalists – but it does appear to be discouraged:
Alcohol is a risk. Police could ban alcohol in media dealings as some journalists do not practise abstinence. Discipline and common sense are a better approach. There is a difference between the offer of a pint of beer and the offer of £500 to check the PNC. The first calls for judgement and will usually be declined. The second is an invitation to be corrupt and must be reported immediately.
In terms of how police should approach journalists she says this:
Journalists rarely write exactly what the police want, particularly the official ‘line’. They will concentrate on the human colour and drama, and seek out any controversy. However, you can guide them towards accuracy, and a sense of proportion. Don’t underestimate the contribution to public confidence of a story in which the cops get the villains.
On the whole it would be a great shame if as a result of wrongdoing at the News of the World police officers became yet more distant from journalists.
Because the reality for the vast majority of journalists is that police have become increasingly distant from journalists in recent years as forces have favoured the highly selective release of information via press offices. The result has been police forces which are less effectively scrutinised and a public less well informed about what is happening in their communities.
On the whole Filkin seems to be urging yet more control on the already very tightly regulated and limited interactions between police and journalists. This would be a retrograde step and lead to an ‘us and them’ situation – when in reality police and journalists are largely on the same side (that of law and order rather than criminality).