Shutting out the news media to the detriment of policing – major report on journalism-police relationship

///Shutting out the news media to the detriment of policing – major report on journalism-police relationship

Shutting out the news media to the detriment of policing – major report on journalism-police relationship

News industry initiative leads to 26 recommendations for professional news and crime reporters to get better access to officers and investigation information

Urgent steps are needed to repair the widespread ‘fractured’ relationship between police forces and the mainstream media which has come under further stress from ‘social media sleuths’ and conspiracy theorists.

The necessary action and analysis of the breakdown in mutual trust is contained in a thorough review by the UK-based Crime Reporters Association (CRA), the Society of Editors (SoE) and the Media Lawyers Association (MLA). The review’s conclusions have been welcomed by the News Media Coalition in the context of challenges to crime reporting and the wider need all branches of society to respect the role of on-the ground newsgatherers.

There have been concerns about worsening relations between officers and reporters for some time. But matters were brought to a head in the UK during investigation by the Lancashire Constabulary into the disappearance of a young mother in February 2023. A subsequent inquiry by the UK’s College of Policing found that while the incident investigation was well run generally, the ‘media handling and communication of information to the public, and the management of this by the leadership team, led to a breakdown of public confidence.’

That November 2023 report noted that there were unprecedented levels of mainstream and social media interest in the case, but the police force lost the ‘media narrative’ at an early stage and opportunities for non-reportable media briefings on the woman’s medical history and vulnerabilities, or sharing her status as a high-risk missing person were not taken.’

It is widely recognised that the void in police guidance to the mainsteam media – including newspaper, news agency and broadcast journalists – led to a frenzy of social media speculation on unprecedented and international scale.

Now the three UK news industry organisations, the CRA, SoE and MLA have produced their own conclusions and recommendations on how police-journalist relations can operate, with big emphasis on practical working arrangements ‘from the moment a journalist picks up the phone to speak to a force for the first time, to the conclusion of the criminal justice process.’

Fundamentally, the joint industry report seeks to deal head on with the issue of poor direct contact.

  1. Enhanced Communication and Accessibility

Answer the Phone: All forces should be prepared to answer the phone to respond to press queries.

One of the simplest yet most impactful recommendations is for police forces to ensure that their press officers are accessible. The report stresses the importance of having press office phone numbers and email addresses clearly listed on websites and the necessity for these officers to answer calls and emails promptly. This direct line of communication is vital in building professional relationships and ensuring that journalists can obtain timely and accurate information.

Regular Updates and Briefings: To avoid speculation and misinformation, police forces are encouraged to provide both reportable and non-reportable briefings regularly. Such briefings should include a wide range of incidents, not just the most severe ones, to keep the public informed about the complete scope of police activity and to build trust through transparency.

  1. Transparency and Trust-Building

Open Dialogue with Reporters: Establishing trust through transparency is paramount. Police should take journalists into their confidence, especially in critical cases, and provide detailed, timely updates. This practice not only helps curb the spread of false information but also reinforces the public’s confidence in both the police and the media.

Differentiating Media from Social Media Influencers: The report suggests that only accredited journalists should attend press briefings to prevent the confusion and spread of misinformation often associated with social media influencers. This clear demarcation ensures that trusted, verified information reaches the public promptly and accurately.

  1. Training and Empowerment for Press Officers

Empowering Press Officers: The recommendations call for press officers to have the authority to make independent decisions about what information can be shared with the media. This empowerment is crucial in maintaining a steady flow of information, especially during unfolding events, and ensures that the media receives comprehensive updates without unnecessary delays.

Training for Better Media Relations: Continuous training for all police ranks on how to engage effectively with the media is essential. Understanding the media’s role and building confidence among officers to communicate openly with journalists can significantly improve the quality of information shared and the overall public perception of policing.

  1. Addressing the Role of Social Media

Managing Social Media Impacts: The rise of social media has created new challenges for police-media relations. The report highlights the need for police to manage the narrative on social media proactively and provide accurate information to counteract falsehoods. This strategy includes guiding the public and media during major incidents to prevent panic and misinformation.

Clear Guidance During Critical Incidents: Police forces should provide clear, consistent guidance during crises, ensuring that accurate information is disseminated quickly to prevent the spread of rumours and panic. This approach is particularly important in the immediate aftermath of incidents like terrorist attacks or significant public safety threats.

  1. Supporting Journalists and Ensuring Safety

Protecting Journalists’ Safety: The report emphasizes the need for police to take threats against journalists seriously, including online harassment and physical threats. Ensuring the safety of journalists is crucial for maintaining a free and independent press, which is fundamental to democracy and public trust.

Facilitating Access to Information: Press officers should provide access to all crime details, including lesser-known offences and out-of-court disposals, to ensure comprehensive public knowledge of police activities. This transparency is vital for public awareness and trust in the criminal justice process.

The news industry report – now submitted to the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) and the College of Policing – concludes:

‘The relationship between the press and police is broken and must be rebuilt. The Nicola Bulley investigation review revealed for the first time that this isn’t just an issue for journalists, it is a problem for police and ultimately the public who have lost faith in ordinary officers who put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe. That investigation proved that shutting out the media is ultimately to the detriment of policing.

There are major benefits for forces in opening up and being more transparent about officers’ work. Fundamentally, the police and the media need to start talking to each other again, trusting each other, telling the public about some of the heroic, often thankless work police do, day-in day-out. We need to change the perception from chief constable to PC level that it is the media who are the problem.

We believe the media could be part of the solution for policing if we work together to rebuild the public’s trust and confidence.’

Andrew Moger, Chief Executive of the News Media Coalition, said:

The original College of Policing’s independent external review into very high-profile Nicola Bulley case combined with these powerful and practical news industry recommendations are a wake-up call – not only for police in the UK but also in other countries that profess respect for press freedom, open justice and democracy based on properly informed citizens’.


The full report from the Crime Reporters Association (CRA), the Society of Editors (SoE) and the Media Lawyers Association (MLA) is available at this LINK.




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