Why we should resist the force

The lesson from the police bid to “injunct” Five’s gangland programme is never to circulate sensitive footage before broadcast.

The
same Greater Manchester force had previously put immense pressure on
the BBC to hand over film of Mark Daly’s Bafta-winning exposure of
racist rookie cops. Media-friendly Chief Constable Mike Todd even
visited then BBC director general Greg Dyke to request access to the
pre-broadcast film.

Dyke held firm and without seeing the
“evidence”, the police had no chance of winning an injunction and also
could not charge any rogue cops with offences and thus make the film
sub judice.

A similar safeguard should apply if journalists
obtain a police document: don’t show them the original – destroy it,
after recording the crucial detail.

Police can check for fingerprints and DNA from saliva on an envelope seal.

Six
years ago, when I was Manchester Evening News crime reporter, a
publicspirited insider at police headquarters sent me a photocopy of a
private letter from the city council leader to then Chief Constable
David Wilmot, which ripped apart city-centre policing policy.

It
made a couple of splashes, but not before a cute assistant chief
constable told me they couldn’t give me a quote because police HQ
hadn’t seen the letter, which might be a forgery. Once they received a
copy and authenticity had been established, I could have my quote.

No
point, I said, the town hall had confirmed its authenticity, before
launching a parallel molehunt, just in case my source was in the town
hall.

I later learned that police bosses knew the letter was
genuine, but the copy contained certain markings which could have
identified the photocopier used by my source and narrowed the hunt.

This is about protecting publication – and our sources.

Steve Panter Journalism lecturer Salford University

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