Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens is calling for a fresh approach to his force’s relations with the media.
While the commissioner believes there has been a considerable improvement in the past two years, he is not satisfied.
Stevens wants his officers to develop effective and positive relationships with journalists from a wide range of news organisations – national, local, minority-ethnic and specialist.
Updating the Met’s media relations policy, he said: “It is our policy to be open and active with the media. It is recognised that some people are cautious about dealing with the media, but over-caution can breed suspicion and contempt, while an open approach tends to encourage confidence and respect.”
One of the things Stevens is encouraging is for the police to explain to the press why things may not have gone as they would have liked.
But the new guidelines warn that a balance needs to be maintained between protecting the rights of individuals and victims and ensuring the successful conclusion of any investigation.
Media handling must not compromise or prejudice any live investigation. There will be occasions, officers were told, when investigating officers will want to withhold certain information. If they become aware that a media organisation is planning to print or broadcast material that could impact on their investigation, they must seek advice from the Met’s directorate of public affairs.
In off-the-record conversations with the press, officers must stick to the facts and not speculate or let their own views influence the discussions.
Police should respond to media enquiries within their deadlines, as far as possible. “We have a duty to let the media know things that should be in the public domain,” the guidelines state.
Stevens said: “There are still many good news stories that are not reaching the media and therefore the public. If we are to gain the goodwill, confidence and support of the general public and achieve our aim of making London a safer place, we need to further engage with the media and take every opportunity to be more proactive.”
His updated policy takes account of high-profile inquiries, such as those which produced the Damilola Taylor report.
The indemnity form which allows journalists to accompany police officers on operations has also been reviewed in consultation with media representatives and lawyers.
By Jean Morgan