16 June 2017

Blog: Reflections on updated media relations guidance

Deputy Chief Constable Gareth Morgan, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for media relations 

Policing is rarely out of the headlines. There is an almost insatiable interest in us and the vast majority of coverage is positive and accurate. As has been the case in the recent terrorist attacks the media can shine a light on the very best of policing - the operational stories of heroism and images of cops dancing with children at the concert in Manchester are recent examples.

The media also play a vital role in holding the police service to account and in connecting us with the public - this includes highlighting when things may have gone wrong or where policing is under legitimate scrutiny. The relationship should also therefore be challenging and we need to recognise the role the media discharge on behalf of the public in ensuring that we are accountable.

It's also clear that this 'interest' can seem unrelenting and at times frustrating when opinion, criticism and counter-criticism are part of the daily news cycle. It is also often the case that an ongoing investigation or court case limits what we can say and this adds to the sense of imbalance in some reporting.

There are also occasions when reporting is wrong, unfair, inaccurate and potentially damaging.

I have worked with the College of Policing to revise our framework of professional practise for working with the media. For those who work with the media regularly or work specifically in communications roles, it aims to support professional integrity, good decision making and set clear expectations with the public and the media about how the police manage information.

But it's not just for communications departments: the responsibility to be open, transparent and accountable is part of the Code of Ethics and sits with everybody in policing. Police officers at all levels should expect to have some contact with the media as a routine part of the job. In recent years there has been a perception, rightly or wrongly, that the police have withdrawn and communicate less openly with the media. This does policing a disservice and I am determined that we need to reset the relationship with the media – an appropriate and professional relationship between the police and the media is in the public interest. We also want to get away from the idea that talking to the media is only for senior officers – the most appropriate person to speak is the person who is responsible for an issue, based on role and not rank.

Of course there are times when information can't be shared. The duty to safeguard confidentiality has to be balanced against the need to be open and transparent. But police officers and staff make judgements about how they use their powers and authority every day. Decisions about how and when to communicate are no different. If in doubt, communications departments are there as a source of specialist support and advice.

I hope this guidance will help support you in your role. It seeks to balance a range of competing needs and demands and recognises the changing nature of the media where citizen journalism and uploaded films are as likely to make the headlines as a 'traditional' press release. I have no doubt that the nature of the relationship between the media and policing will continue to evolve as will the guidance needed to meet the challenges of the digital age. What won't change is the shared duty to maintain a professional working relationship between the police and the media to help us communicate to the public we serve.

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