THUNDER BAY – Crimebeat – Don’t flirt with a journalist! Don’t drink with a journalist! Those are two of the recomendations coming out of a report on the Metropolitan Police and the relationship between police and journalists. Elizabeth Filkin said “A free press is essential to a democracy as it can provide scrutiny of public institutions, such as the MPS, and is essential in providing information about what the police do. It is critical for policing legitimacy that the MPS are as open and transparent as they can be and the media plays an important part in this. On occasions the MPS has not been open enough in providing the right information to the public.”
The Report on Metropolitan Police and Media was delivered earlier today. The goal is to ensure that details of ongoing investigations, and other information from police officers not get to journalists in an unofficial manner. The report, written by Elizabeth Filkin came about as a result of the phone hacking scandal in the United Kingdom. Members of the British Parliament were concerned that the Metropolitan Police might not have fully investigated the case as fully as they should have.
Filkin states, “In July 2011 there were perceptions that phone hacking at the News of the World was more widespread than had previously been identified, and that the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) may not have investigated these concerns thoroughly. The then Commissioner of the MPS and an Assistant Commissioner resigned. In July 2011 the then Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson asked me to review the relationships between the MPS and the media. On the 13th of July 2011 the Prime Minister announced a Public Inquiry to be chaired by Lord Justice Leveson into the ‘Culture, Practices and Ethics of the Press’. My work commenced in August 2011 and continued under the new Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe”.
The role of the police in dealing with media is now to come under new rules. “The media is essential in informing the public about the work of the police service and its role in the justice system. It is impossible for an organisation to control every contact with the media. Any proposed solution will rely on police officers and police staff ‘living’ a set of core principles and making judgements about their application”.
The MPS has expanded their communications strategy since 2000; Commissioner, Sir (now Lord) John Stevens set out the following view: “We therefore, need to take a new approach to our working with the media by developing more effective and positive relationships with journalists. This is a job for us all, not just the Directorate of Public Affairs.
“Over the years, I have seen the Met become increasingly cautious in its media relations and become far too reactive. This cautiousness can breed suspicion and contempt, while an open approach tends to breed confidence and respect. If we are to gain the goodwill, confidence and support of the general public and achieve our aim of making London a safer place, we need to re-engage with the media and seize every opportunity to be much more proactive. I want to see Metropolitan Police officers and civil staff representing the Service through the media, speaking up about their achievements, correcting inaccuracies and just as importantly, explaining why things may not have gone as we would have liked.”
At issue was concerns that the relationship between media and police had been allowed to become too cozy and it was preventing police from a full and solid investigation. Filken reports, “There was speculation that cosy relationships involving excessive hospitality, between some senior police officers and News of the World journalists, undermined the willingness of the police to pursue possible criminal offences beyond the two convictions in 2007. Such perceptions, regardless of the facts, damaged trust in the impartiality of the police.
“A typical view expressed to me during my Inquiry was: ‘The only reason that I can think that the hacking enquiry was not fully pursued was that it was a story that the police did not wish to uncover. They did not want to damage their relationships with News International. It was appalling negligence if not corruption. I fear that the damage to public confidence in the police as a result of the hacking scandal will be colossal and am concerned
that there may be worse to come when these matters go to trial,’ stated by John Whittingdale, MP the Chairman, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, House of Commons”.
There is always a fine line between how media and police interact with each other. If the relationship becomes too close, reporters may out of a perceived friendship, fail to do their duty in informing the public. Inversely it can cause police to be reluctant to fully investigate a media outlet when there are serious concerns, like during the phone hacking scandal.
In accepting the report, Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe commented, “We need to show leadership from the top to implement new ways of working. We need to be open about the contact we have with the media. If a member of staff is not happy to be open about contact, then clearly it shouldn’t happen. The only defence is that of a whistleblower.
“The relationship we have with the media is an important one, we want to be as open and transparent as possible with the press because we are a public service and we need to be held to account, and we need the press and the public to help us prevent and detect crime. But there should be no more secret conversations, there should be no more improper contact – that which is of selfish not public interest. Meetings will no longer be enhanced by hospitality and alcohol.
“I have asked the new Deputy Commissioner, Craig Mackey, to consider the report when he starts with us and take the lead on how the Met will respond to the recommendations.”