The College of Policing has issued new “Guidance on Relationships with the Media” [pdf]. This has been produced to ensure greater consistency between police forces and in response to the Leveson Inquiry. The Guidance deals with contacts between police officers and the media, the circumstances in which arrested persons should be named and with “media ridealongs”.
On the issue of the naming of suspects, the Guidance states that
“Decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis but, save in clearly identified circumstances, or where legal restrictions apply, the names or identifying details of those who are arrested or suspected of a crime should not be released by police forces to the press or the public. Such circumstances include a threat to life, the prevention or detection of crime or a matter of public interest and confidence. This approach aims to support consistency and avoid undesirable variance which can confuse press and public (para 3.5.2).
Although the press have campaigned against this approach it is consistent with the view expressed by Lord Justice Leveson (see our post here), the views of the Judiciary [pdf] and the views of the majority of the public (see our post here).
In relation to the terms on which police officers should speak to the media, the Guidance suggests that the police service should use the following terms (para 3.4.2):
- On the record – means all that is said can be reported, quoted and attributed. Where possible, all conversations should be on this basis and it should always be assumed that a conversation is on the record unless expressly agreed otherwise in advance.
- Non-reportable briefing – this phrase covers a background briefing which is not to be reported. It can be used to provide further context around an ‘on the record’ statement.
- Embargoed briefing – means content of the briefing can be reported, but not until a specific event or time.
The guidance was reviewed following criticism about differing approaches to releasing information by forces and is intended to ensure a professional working relationship between police and the media.
It updates police practice on “off-the-record” briefings, recording contact with the media, appropriately reporting any personal relationship between a police officer and a journalist and providing information concerning arrests to the media.
National policing lead for communications Chief Constable Andy Trotter said:
“An open, professional and strong relationship with the media is an essential aspect of the way in which the police are held to account. This guidance actively encourages police officers and staff to speak to the media about matters for which they are responsible. They should be open, honest and approachable.
“The police also have a duty to safeguard information. At times the decision between openness and confidentiality can be finely balanced. We aim to bring into the open our guidance about when someone should be named or not so that the approach is clearly understood.”