Davies: Hacking revelations triggered police backlash

Nick Davies, the Guardian reporter who broke the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, today admitted the revelations had triggered a ‘backlash’that now threatened to undermine the relationship between police and the press.

Davies said he knew of two recent cases unrelated to the hacking scandal in which police officers had been arrested for speaking to reporters without permission.

They now faced the possibility of being charged with misconduct offences and being jailed for up 18 months – even though there appears to be no suggestion of bribery.

‘I think it’s worrying,’he told the Leveson Inquiry. ‘It’s in the aftermath of the phone-hacking thing that this has happened.

Davies claimed there was now a ‘backlash’following his revelations about collusion between News International and the Met, but insisted it was a ‘completely unjustifiable and unnecessary reaction”.

‘Police forces, it’s not just the Met… going way overboard in the other direction, and that is the most alarming example you can see of this backlash,’he said.

The ultimate effect would be to prevent any form of unauthorised contact between journalist and the police, he warned.

‘If you lose that you’re really, really in dangerous territory… without unauthorised contact the Met police would have been allowed to carry on misleading the press, public and Parliament about the phone-hacking scandal. It’s an absolutely classic example of the danger of the official flood of information.’

This ‘official flood’produces a scenario in which information is monopolised by the police press office. In his written evidence Davies added:: ‘The more effective the monopoly, the greater the chance of problems arising.

‘I would say with confidence that the truth about the phone-hacking scandal would not have emerged in the way that it did without this kind of unofficial contact, which helped to break down the misleading official version of events which was being presented to the public, press and parliament by the Metropolitan Police.”

Monopoly suppliers of information

He also told the inquiry that while it was unusual for press officers to ‘engage in knowing falsehood’when they were under pressure some “certainly will lie to reporters in order to protect their organisation”.

‘More commonly, press officers will hold back information which might embarrass their employer; promote information which tends to enhance their reputation; select an angle which assists the employer,’he said.

‘If they have to release embarrassing information, because it simply cannot be concealed, they may do so at a time of day which makes coverage unlikely; or on a day when coverage is diverted on to some more compelling story; or through a friendly outlet which will accept an angle which serves their interest in the hope that others will take the same angle.”

It was now accepted policy, said Davies, for press offices among police forces and other organisations to be a ‘monopoly supplier of information”.

‘This has been reinforced by internal regulation which has made it a disciplinary offence to speak to the press without permission,’he said.

‘In a particularly worrying development, the last six months has seen some attempts to make it a criminal offence for an officer to speak to a reporter without permission.

‘If this ‘monopoly’ policy works effectively, the only information which is released about the organisation is that which is sanctioned by and channelled through the press office.”



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