Review of 7/7 reveals lack of co-ordination and trust between police and journalists
Leading journalists involved in coverage of the 7 July bombings have backed official recommendations this week to improve communications with the press during disasters.
The London Assembly 7 July Review Committee has suggested that journalists be involved in future disaster exercises — rather than just being observers. And it called for the Metropolitan Police to review its procedures and appoint a senior officer to liaise with the media throughout the day in any future terrorist attack.
The bombings on the morning of 7 July last year at Tube stations and on a London bus left 56 people dead.
Hundreds of journalists covered the story.
Times home news editor Oliver Wright and Evening Standard executive editor, news, David Taylor were both among the journalists to give evidence to the review committee when it met in January.
Wright said: "The Met has to realise that the press are in no way their enemy.
We've got to work together, particularly on incidents like this. We've got to be responsible and they've got to be responsive to us as a way of getting information out to the public, and sometimes that may involve taking us or individual journalists into their confidence."
Wright welcomed plans to appoint a senior press officer who both sides can trust to act as a liaison between police and press. "The most frustrating thing is if you're a journalist at the scene, you're dealing with someone who just doesn't know and doesn't have that information and isn't in the loop," he said.
"There's also a need for us and the Met to sit down and talk about what do
you do in the week after? How do you pass this information out, how can we help, what do you need us to do? The last thing you want is an air of suspicion on both sides."
Taylor said: "There were some views expressed about whether the media centre was equipped round the clock and whether it was properly up and running in the morning after as the story rumbled on. There was an inevitable lag between what we were finding out and what they [the Met] said formally."
He added: "With our day of successive tight deadlines, sometimes you have to trust your judgement. On the bus bomb at Tavistock Square we had by two o'clock an eyewitness from the BMA [British Medical Association] who had personally dealt with the dead who was saying ‘I saw at least 10' and at six o'clock that night Brian Paddick [then deputy assistant commissioner of the Met] was doing live interviews near that scene confirming two dead, so there
was a clear and massive discrepancy.
"What you still want from the Met is for them to be as open and honest as they can as quickly as they can. The recommendations seem to be going to the heart of that."
WHAT THE REPORT RECOMMENDS:
- Future resilience exercises include senior representatives from the media as participants rather than simply as observers.
- In the event of a major incident the Met should appoint a senior officer to act as the police spokesperson throughout the day. That person's primary responsibility would be to communicate with the public, via the media, to pass on accurate and timely advice and information.
- The Met establishes a process whereby advisory messages are updated hourly, even if there is no change in the basic advice.
- The Met liaises with the London Media Emergency Forum to establish a protocol for communicating publicly the time-limited nature of news statements during the response to a major incident.
- Met news statements include key pieces of advice and information on broader issues, including advice on using mobile phones in the event of network congestion.
- The Met develops a standard list of issues to be covered in early news conferences in the event of a major incident.
- The Met, in consultation with an effective media centre, produces a guidance document on the establishment of the needs of the media, building on the lessons learnt from 7 July.