A welsh police force has banned officers from speaking with journalists unless they have permission from the press office, according to South Wales Echo editor Tim Gordon.
Giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry this afternoon, Gordon said the development was a source of concern among reporters who found it difficult to get information from police because most queries were now channelled through press officers.
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‘I’m all for the free flow of information,’he said. ‘I think it’s really important in a democratic society that happens. I’m concerned that Gwent police have announced that their officers can’t talk to the media unless they’re given prior permission from their press office.
‘I’m concerned that we find it difficult to get information at weekends and even during the week, I’m concerned there are occasions when the press officers can be difficult and it seems that they’re withholding info from us.”
He added: ‘I would much prefer that we could move forward trusting each other – that my reporters could build and develop relationships with police officers on a professional basis so there’s no fear or favour granted on either side but that the information is free-flowing
‘I would much prefer if the police were encouraged to give as much information as they possibly could.”
The new policy was confirmed by the Gwent police press ofice. A spokesperson said: “Following the publication of the Filkin Report, Gwent Police took the opportunity to inform officers and staff of its findings/recommendations to ensure a professional, open and healthy relationship with the media.
‘Staff and officers have been advised that although they are able to speak to journalists they must consult with the Corporate Communications Department first. This ensures a consistent and accurate response, protection of the individual and that all disclosures are recorded for audit purposes and open to scrutiny.”
Gordon was also opposed to any proposals requiring police and journalists to keep a written record of all press contact, suggesting that ‘it already sounds like you’re proposing there’s something wrong with talking to a journalist”.
Stressing the differences between the regional and national press, he told the inquiry that after examining the expense claims of 58 journalists at Trinity Mirror‘s Media Wales, including editors, he found that on average they spent 71p a week entertaining contacts.
‘It’s not something that’s in our culture and hasn’t been for a very, very long time,’he said.
In his written evidence, Gordon added: ‘The police tend to be willing to release information when it suits their own agenda, for example to help campaigns, to seek witnesses, to celebrate a recent success; but the police can be terribly slow at releasing information or even confirming information on incidents that are happening/ongoing.”
Gwent police was asked to comment but had not responded at the time of publication.