The Policing and the Media panel debate at the Society of Editors Conference #soeconf13

Live notes from the Police and the Media panel

Keith Bristow, DG, National Crime Agency

Alex Marshall, CEO, College of Policing

Andrew Trotter, Chief Constable, British Transport Police and national policing lead for the communication advisory group

KB: NCA brings number of other organisations and our mission is to cut serious and organised crime. It is about recognising policing is local but we need an overall effort. Organised crime is a national security threat, cyber, organised and immigration crime is now all classed as this.

Directive powers are important but are in extremis – I would use them if there was a refusal to undertake a reasonable request.

Cub crime is often depicted as unique and requiring specialist intervention but increasingly criminals are committing old crimes using new ways.

The biggest challenge is our starting point and we need your (the media) help in getting people to understand serious organised crime is not happening somewhere else to someone else… We must be increasingly concerned about our children's uses of the Internet – you don't have to open your front door to let criminals in now.

We want the media to help us get the message out to criminals – like some of the media coverage about Curtis Warren (a Liverpool gangster -search www.liverepoolecho.co.uk) In the last few days.

It means more of our offices will be accessible to you (the media). “If you're the rights person to talk about what we are doing, do so”. The public want to see and hear the men and women who do fantastic work keeping them safe.

This will mean:

More off the record briefing

More advance briefing

Specialist media advisors present for briefings

No leaks – that is outside the rules of our organisation

Digital media: We don't want to tweet every thing – less is more – but as we learn and develop our approach we will give you what you need to do your jobs

We want to engage withal fellow professionals with a shared public interest, not as mates.

AM: It is important that the NCA and forces have a close relationship. The college is doing a lot of work around cyber crime and we also produce a lot of guidance, including contact with the media. We have now put the vast majority of that online – it is on the college of policing website now.

Acknowledged the difficulties of police/media relations recently and asked for feedback. Said bad news. Stories about policing were “massively damaging” and a code of ethics was under consultation now.

AT: I was the author of the guidance and I stand by it. I champion good relations between the police and media. I want a good and open and legitimate relationship with journalists. They have not always been legitimate and we are not going back to that.

Regarding police/media relations: “If you can tell your mum and your boss about that conversion and it id correct then that is about right.”

I want us to engage with you and for the debate to move on.

Police feedback, he said, was that forces have good relations with locals and regionals, and with local representatives of nationals, but it is not so good when other nationals turn up.

Chairman Dermot Murnaghan asked: Are you announcing the death of the tip off?

AM: we can have coffee together and talk about legitimate issues and if it is proper to give guidance on certain issues then we can do that.

KB: It has to be legitimate and public interest has to be at the centre of it. I would undertake that contact with one of our media specialists present.

Barry Davies of NWWN asked: We have papers covering several counties and the approaches can be quite different. What are your views?

AT: I discourage local policies as I don't want to see local practices brought up which are confusing. It is a poor service and it is not very bright.

AM: if you see discrepancies tell me and I will bring it up with the local force.

KB: regional and local relationships are important. We are working to have an effect on real people in real neighbourhoods and there will be very few occasions where we are not doing that in partnership with the local police.

A PA reporter asked about leaks and whether KB found them alarming. He said there were suggestions the leaks had benefited paedophiles.

KB said intelligence collection techniques were important and anything that puts information in the public domain can help criminals. There is the potential for unlawful sharing of information to be an offence.

Heather Brooke asked that, as the FBI was accountable to the public should the NCA be too. She also asked what defined 'legitimate' and asked if there should be more protection for whistleblowers raising concerns about police practices.

KB: We are FOI exempts but I don't think FOI is the same as being balanced and transparent. I have given commitment to get into the public domain everything I can.

AT: Real and genuine whistleblowers have absolute protection in law.

Asked if the panel was advocating a hard and fast policy of no pre arrest publicity

AM: there is nothing to stop police force naming someone. If Lancs Police had wanted to name Stuart Hall they could have done. If there is a reason to publicise it, then we can do so. What I am saying to forces is that this should not be as a result of an old pals act of a corrupt relationship.

If the media has the correct information they have no reason to com to the police, they can just publish it. A journalist ringing the press office to ask for confirmation that someone has been arrested [ie. of a name the journalist has that they want confirmed], then that is corrupt. That person's reputation could be trashed without good reason.

Nick Turner, from Cumbria Newspapers: If you asked local editors in the room they would, all would have examples where crimes had happened but it was very difficult to get information from the police. It is a basic thing to tell the community about crimes.

AM: So many of our successes come from publicity I am concerned to see how many people in this room agree they have problems with information. I am happy to take up individual cases.

Mike Glover, of Lakes and Land Communication, said police press offices always said victims of crime did not want to talk to the press and there was a culture of no publicity. AT said in his experience people would say no in the first instance to publicity and then perhaps reflect on it and change their minds.

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About Alison Gow

I'm a journalist, particularly interested in story-telling, networks and digital innovation.
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