Police's PR spend is not making friends

Many journalists feel that the police now see us as the enemy. Journalists such as veteran crime reporter Nigel Green – who claims that despite increased spending on PR the flow of information from police forces has worsened in recent years.

Like the journalists who have objected to being logged and photographed by Police Forward Intelligence teams while covering demonstrations.

And like local reporter Sally Murrer – currently awaiting trial on the obscure charge of aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office – apparently for simply doing her job and getting stories from a police source.

It is a sad state of affairs that two groups whose aims should be mutually beneficial cannot get on better.

Police largely rely on the media in order to find witnesses and solve crimes.

Newspapers and broadcasters need cooperation from police to report the crime stories that are the bread and butter of their coverage.

Sadly the police, like nearly every other public authority, and large private companies, have sought to impose far more control over the flow of information in recent years than was previously the case.

The good news is that there are signs the situation is improving. The Home Office is currently looking into providing 'crime-mapping'information of the type which is already widely available in the USA. And Justice Secretary Jack Straw has scrapped photocopying fees to allow all journalists to have free access to court lists.

What is now needed are detailed UK-wide guidelines on police best practice when dealing with journalists. And the basis of these guidelines should be the same as the Freedom of Information Act, which has revolutionised press relations with councils. Any information held by the police should be disclosed to the press, and by extension the public, unless there is a very good reason not to do so.

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