Met officers told: 'Register' relations with journalists, consider 'motivation' of drinks and avoid 'off-the-record'

Metropolitan Police guidelines require officers to register “personal” relationships with journalists, consider the “motivation” of a drink offer and “avoid” the term 'off the record'.

The Met’s Media Policy Toolkit, which advises staff on how to deal with media issues, “takes account of” Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations, the Filkin Report on police-press relations and the Without Fear or Favour report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.

The guide says: "If you have a relationship with a specific journalist on a personal basis outside of your role as a police officer or member of police staff (such as a relative or close friend) then details should be logged."

And on drinking with journalists, it says: "Hospitality taken from journalists should be the exception not the rule."

The guide also sets out the Met’s policy on naming suspects and whistleblowing.

The Media Policy Toolkit, written by head of media Ed Stearns and released under the Freedom of Information Act, is a question-and-answer sheet originally compiled in 2013 and up-to-date to June this year.

Do I need to record or report that I've had contact with the media?

Under the question “Do I need to record or report that I've had contact with the media?”, the document says: “A Media contact Register for Management Board members and ACPO rank officers is now collated and published monthly on the MPS website.

"Officers and staff below ACPO rank and staff equivalent level should keep their own note of their contact with a journalist and what information they have provided which can be audited by line managers on an ad hoc basis.

"If you have a relationship with a specific journalist on a personal basis outside of your role as a police officer or member of police staff (such as a relative or close friend) then details should be logged with your line manager and kept within your OCU or branch. This is an interim position and a corporate process for declaring relationships is being progressed and will be communicated to officers and staff when finalised."

Am I allowed to have a drink with a journalist?

The “Am I allowed to have a drink with a journalist?” question responds: "Hospitality taken from journalists should be the exception not the rule.

"All MPS officers and staff should start from the presumption that meetings with journalists should not be accompanied by alcohol.

"It is recognised that there are some circumstances such as a formal event or professional gathering where this presumption would not apply, but you are expected to act professionally at all times and drink in moderation.

"When considering accepting hospitality from a journalist it is worth bearing in mind the criteria cited in the guidance to The Bribery Act 2010 'that the recipient should not be given the impression that they are under an obligation to confer any business advantage or that the recipient's independence will be affected.'

"You should also consider the following points if you are offered hospitality by a journalist:

  • the motivation for the offer
  • the public perception of acceptance
  • the potential impact of acceptance on public confidence in the integrity of the MPS
  • and whether what at first sight appears to be an innocent offer could later become the subject of adverse comment or criticism.

"Where hospitality is received from the media, officers and police staff must ensure that the Gifts and Hospitality Policy is adhered to. If in doubt refer to the policy and discuss it with your line manager."

Are police officers allowed to talk to journalists?

Under the question “Are police officers allowed to talk to journalists?”, it says: "In broad terms, officers are authorised to provide journalists with factual information about routine operational incidents or investigations that they have personal responsibility for if they are of inspector rank or above unless there is a specific media strategy in place or a dedicated spokesperson assigned (such as a murder inquiry or a sensitive or high profile crime investigation)."

The document said that, where possible, officers should “liaise with a press officer” to ensure that information given is “suitable for release”.

Officers, it said, "may speak to journalists about activities outside their work for the MPS such as charitable work, or registered business interests or where they are involved in public civil legal proceedings involving the MPS such as civil actions or employment tribunals but must obtain prior permission from their line management and are reminded that they must continue to follow the expected standards of professional behaviour whether speaking as a police officer or as a private individual.

“Careful consideration should be given to the extent of this permission. For example, it could be time-limited (to a day or week) or limited to a particular interview. It should not be open-ended."

The question "If I have been interviewed by a journalist do I need to tell someone?" is answered: "Yes. If you have provided a briefing or interview to a national or regional newspaper, television station or radio programme without support from a press officer you should keep a note of what you have said and immediately make the Media Desk or a press officer aware that they are follow-up inquiries from other journalists can be dealt with. If you have spoken to a local media journalist make your local press liaison officer aware."

What does 'off-the-record' mean?

Asked "What does 'off-the-record' mean?", the guide says: "The term off the record means different things to different people and should be avoided.

"The default position for most information released by the MPS for publication or broadcast is that it can be attributed to a named person or an MPS spokesperson. Information released in these circumstances is therefore 'reportable' and 'on the record'.

"However there are occasions when it is important for us to provide context, guidance or explanation by releasing information which is not meant for publication or broadcast. Recommendation 75 of the Leveson Inquiry report allows for this. This policy does not therefore change the established practice of issuing guidance to journalists that is not for publication or broadcast but it does formalise the terms that we should use.

"A 'non-reportable' briefing or release of information – this is information provided to journalists on the basis that it is for guidance and not for publication or broadcast. This enables police to have a dialogue with journalists about, for instance, serious or sensitive policing issues without generating publicity about them. A brief note of the subject or subjects discussed should be kept by the officer or a press officer.

"An 'embargoed' briefing or release of information – this information is not to be published or broadcast until after a specified event or time. This is often used when journalists are briefed in advance of pro-active crime operations."

Should police officers or staff contact the media if they suspect corruption or other wrongdoing by colleagues?

On the issue of contacting media if staff suspect corruption or wrongdoing, the guide says: "The MPS has robust reporting procedures in place to expose wrongdoing…

"A justification sometimes cited for the leaking of confidential information to journalists is that police officers or staff are whistleblowing about wrongdoing in the organisation and it is therefore in the public interest. Whilst there may be genuine instances of this, it is important that the leaking of information for different motives – such as a personal grievance or for financial gain – is not misrepresented as whistleblowing."

It says the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 "protects workers that disclose information about malpractice at their workplace, or former workplace, provided certain conditions are met. The conditions concern the nature or the information disclosed and the person to whom is is disclosed. If these conditions are met, the Act protects the worker from suffering detriment as a result of having made the disclosure. If the conditions are not met a disclosure may constitute a breach of the worker's duty of confidence to his employer.

"The Government's Guide to Whistleblowing is published on the internet which makes it clear that if an employee can't tell their employer about the wrongdoing they suspect, they should contact a 'prescriber person or body'. A worker can only tell the prescribed person or body if they think their employer:

  • will cover it up
  • would treat them unfairly if they complained
  • has not sorted it out and they have already told him

"The prescribed bodies for police in London are the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the Criminal Cases Review Commission. The advice given here will be considered by the Directorate of Professional Standards when assessing potential misconduct relating to allegations of improper disclosure of information."

Does the MPS name people who have been arrested but not charged?

On whether arrested, but not charged, individuals are named by the Met, the guide says: "The current MPS policy is that people who have been arrested are not named by police unless there are exceptional circumstances. This is in line with Lord Justice Leveson's advice that save in exceptional circumstances the names or identifying details of those who are arrested or suspended of a crime should not be released.

"Journalists often ask police press officers to confirm the names of those arrested, probably because of the legal protection it can afford. Even when the media correctly identify someone as having been arrested that person can sue for libel if they are not subsequently charged. A defence for this is 'qualified privilege' which can be achieved by the police or CPS confirming the name."

It adds: "In circumstances where the MPS is reactively answering questions from the media about a particular arrest, it was previously our practice that when a journalist put the correct name of an arrested person to us we would not confirm it but would confirm that, for example, 'a 50-year-old man had been arrested'.

"It has been argued that this could be interpreted as confirming the name so the phrase 'we neither confirm nor deny the arrested person's identity' should be used in response to a journalist putting a correct or incorrect name to us and no additional guidance should be given.

"Whilst this means that we do not warn reporters when the name they have is incorrect, it avoids lists of names being put forward until the journalist falls upon the correct name, or the conclusion being drawn that if we have NOT given guidance that the name put to us is incorrect, it must therefore be right…

"It should always be made clear that we are not confirming identity, and it should also be made clear that we will not guide if a name is wrong."

Click here to read the full guide.

Comments
No comments to display

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

5 × two =

CLOSE
CLOSE