'We are not the enemy' - Editors from around the UK tell ACPO media lead about problems dealing with police - Press Gazette

'We are not the enemy' - Editors from around the UK tell ACPO media lead about problems dealing with police

Nottingham Post editor Mike Sassi has revealed how his newspaper has "no relationship whatsoever" with his local police force.
He was speaking at the Society of Editors Conference in Southampton as as ACPO media lead chief constable Colette Paul heard repeated complaints from editors about dealing with the police. Paul heard widespread concerns about the disclosure of information by the police and about the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to view journalists' phone records.
Sassi said that Nottinghamshire Police "see themselves as the publisher". He revealed that last week a child who visited Nottingham Police HQ after winning a colouring competition was injured in a firearms incident.
He said: "The police had all the details and they chose not to say anything." Sassi said that when a journalist heard about the incident and asked for details the force responded by publishing a report on their own website.
He said: "This is how they operate. They don't want to give us the information."
Paul Connew said he had worked on documentaries looking at the Savile and Rotherham child abuse scandals and spoken to retired police officers who had "tried to blow the whistle internally" and found that things were "buried". 
He said: "Perhaps things wouldn't have gone wrong if officers had blown the whistle to the press."
Liverpool Echo editor Alistair Machray said his reporters often got a response from the press office that it was "all quiet" unless they came with prior knowledge of an incident.
Eastern Daily Press editor Nigel Pickover said that his company was close to Norfolk police as a whole, but had problems dealing with individual officers.
He said: "At an operational level we are lied to on a regular basis." He said there had also been a recent incident where officers had stood in the way of journalists trying to get photos of a fire.
He said: "I would ask you to give training to officers at various levels that we are not the enemy."
Society of Editors director Bob Satchwell raised concerns about police use of RIPA, He said: "I was there when RIPA was being introduced. There is no doubt in my mind or aging memory that the government and parliament intended RIPA as a tool to help with terrorism and major organised crime.
"I know Colette your chief constable colleagues have justified its use based on their activities being lawful under the act. I am sure they would not deliberately break the law. But the law only works in the long-term if it is used sensibly and in the way it was intended.
"It is now turning into a Dangerous Dogs Act. The importance of journalists' sources and contacts is widely recognised in the courts and more. Journalists are not generally criminals and in the most celebrated of cases – Plebgate – I don't think that the journalist was suspected of any crime.
"Moreover, some justification I have heard for searching Tom Newton Dunn''s phone records was that major crime was suspected, a conspiracy to bring down a cabinet minister.
"I couldn't help smiling. Embarrassing a Cabinet minister is not treason, it is not even a crime. It is the sworn duty of politicians to do it all their time to their opponents and their own.
"Plebgate was not high treason. You could almost see the cogs turning in Scotland Yard to make sure they were seen to take action because of the political row rather than crime."
He added: "There is of course a balance to be struck between privacy and freedom of the media and the public's right to know. It strikes me that the European Convention on Human Rights was written by British judges after the Second World War to counteract totalitarian states and the most powerful weapon of dictators, a secret police force. 
"Now it seems we are dancing slowly towards a state that curtails the media, invades individual privacy more than the media has ever done and reduces the public's ability to receive information.
"After Leveson this is not a time to close doors as some seem to think. We are not in the business of the ridiculous idea that journalists flirt with police officers.
"Now is the time for police officers and journalists to talk more, formally and yes informally, and appropriately."
Paul agreed to follow up individual editors' concerns. She said that there had been "no abuse of RIPA".



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Author: Dominic Ponsford

Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette