Media under review in UK
Police officers should be encouraged to speak with the press and remain approachable when dealing with the media, according to a United Kingdom-based law enforcement advisory body.
The intermediate guidelines in dealing with the press were issued last month by the Association of Chief Police Officers and will be further reviewed in light of findings in the UK’s Leveson Inquiry. The inquiry began in the wake of the News of the World tabloid scandal.
Following some surprising revelations regarding communications between police officers and NoTW representatives in Britain, the UK-based law enforcement advisory body has urged for generally more openness – not less – on the part of police. “Officers and staff are encouraged to speak to the media about factual matters which relate to their roles,” the association stated in its guidelines. “They should be open, honest and approachable.”
The guidelines advise that any media communications policy should be developed internally within each police department, but that any process should maintain its impartiality and integrity and be able to withstand scrutiny.
“The media has a significant role in holding policing to account and in informing the public about the work of the police service,” the ACPO guidelines read. “Police officers and staff should be fair, accurate, relevant and timely in providing information.”
One of the strongest guidelines from the Association of Chief Police Officers is that police officers speaking to members of the press should establish how the information they exchange is to be used before it is given.
For press purposes, “on the record” means the information can be used and a source attributed; on background indicates the information can be used but not attributed, and “off the record” means the information may not be used but is merely issued for guidance or to prevent erroneous reporting.
“Speaking terms are sometimes misunderstood,” the association notes. “For this reason, it is always important to clarify how they will apply before exchanging information.”
Personal information of suspects, witnesses or victims should not be disclosed by police unless there are no legal restrictions in giving that information, the association opines. Also, public disclosure of general police crime-fighting tactics should not be done as that might be “unhelpful to future operations”.
Under the association guidelines, press officers employed by a department are more often to be used as a resource to assist officers in public communication, rather than speaking for those officers. The association also advises any officer speaking with the press to be attended by a communications specialist or to keep a record of the information divulged if that person is not available.
Any personal relationships or family relations with members of the press should be immediately disclosed to the department by police officers, the association states.
The Association of Chief Police Officers also strongly recommends “fair and equal” treatment for all press organisations. In other words, once in the public domain, police information should be released to all.
“Where a media organisation generates an ‘exclusive’ [story], their right to share information in confidence with the police should be respected,” the association guidelines state, encouraging police to work in tandem with press organisations where it is appropriate to do so.
“Police officers and staff should seek to identify opportunities to communicate proactively about the force, their work and policing in general,” the association states. “It is good practice to bring matters to the attention of the press office in good time.”
The press must also report responsible and fairly, according to the association, which advises departments to challenge inaccuracies when possible and appropriate. If a mistake is made by an officer regarding misinformation, it is important that the agency seek to correct that quickly.