ITN says police ban amounts to censorship

Avon and Somerset Police has complained to media regulator Ofcom over an ITV News report which it described as “unfair, naïve and irresponsible”.

Police banned journalists from ITV News from a news conference today, apparently in response to last night’s report which was critical of their investigation.

In the piece, journalist Geraint Vincent questioned whether the force’s inquiries had followed procedure, and suggested that officers were no closer to finding 25-year-old Ms Yeates’ killer than they were when her body was found on Christmas Day.

David Mannion, ITN editor-in-chief, told the BBC Radio Media Show this afternoon that before last night’s report ITN, which supplies ITV with its national news programmes, made numerous unsuccessful attempts to get a response from Avon and Somerset Police. “We stand by our story,” he said.

If the chief constable was unhappy about the previous night’s report, he should have complained to ITN or Ofcom, he said, adding: “The issue here is that in the interim period we have a situation where legitimate members of the press are summarily banned from attending a press conference.”

That was against the public interest, he said, given that the point of the news conference was to gain the maximum news coverage of the fact that police were seeking one sock which was missing from Ms Yeates’ body when it was found.

“We go out to millions of people who cannot now have seen that as a result of the ban.”

An ITN spokesman said: “ITN is hugely disappointed by Avon and Somerset Constabulary’s decision to exclude ITV News from today’s press conference.

“This decision will result in millions of viewers not being able to see new evidence or hear the latest police calls for witnesses. Our coverage has helped maintain awareness of this case, and we strongly disagree with Avon and Somerset Constabulary’s attempt to censor what information we can broadcast.

“Avon and Somerset Constabulary’s decision to ban ITV News follows reports on last night’s ITV News at Ten which raised apparent inconsistencies of the police’s handling of some elements of the case.

“The force was contacted numerous times ahead of broadcast but Avon and Somerset Constabulary did not use this opportunity to register any issues or raise a complaint with ITN.”

An Avon and Somerset Police spokesman said in a statement: “We have made a complaint to Ofcom in respect of the unfair, naïve and irresponsible reporting on the ITN 10 O’Clock news yesterday evening.

“As we are still awaiting a response to our complaint it would be inappropriate for us to comment any further at this time.

“A live murder investigation has been under way now for just 12 days and the media have played an important role in helping us to appeal for witnesses.

“While we appreciate the support we have received so far from most of the media we must step in if we feel coverage will hamper the investigation. Our primary aim will always be to secure justice for Joanna.”

The spokesman – who was asked directly who authorised the press conference ban, and why it was introduced, particularly if police sought given maximum coverage in relation to the missing sock – said there would be no further comment.

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