In conclusions on corruption in the Metropolitan Police, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) appeared to associate journalists with terrorist groups earlier this year.
There have been calls to eliminate counter-corruption advice for the secret police, which appears to treat journalists similarly to criminals and radicals.
Two organizations have cautioned that a concealed piece of the College of Policing’s (CoP) instruction risks “equating the media profession with the wrongdoing and corruption” that journalists aim to expose.
In a letter to the CoP’s chief executive, the Society of Editors and the Crime Reporters Association (CRA) stated that the guidance risks “harming the public’s opinion of the media” and must be revised “urgently.”
According to the Authorised Professional Practice (APP) guidance, journalists have been added to the “notifiable associations” section, requiring officers to notify their police force if they are affiliated with a journalist.
Even though portions of the guidance are available online, this particular piece is restricted and consequently not subject to public inspection.
The letter continued, “The media plays a vital role in keeping the public informed about the work of the police, and in addition to bringing criminals to justice and keeping communities safe, media scrutiny promotes transparency and aids comprehension of how police forces across the United Kingdom operate.”
It added that the inclusion of journalists in the guidance gives the “incorrect impression that journalists seek to bribe or deceive” individuals.
A troubling precedent
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) issued an apology earlier this year after appearing to associate journalists with extremist organizations in its report on corruption in the Metropolitan Police.
It was recommended in the report that police officers reveal relationships with “journalists and extremist organizations.”
Despite the apologies, the recommendation remained unchanged, and its execution is believed to be under study by the police, according to industry leaders, who warned that adopting the suggestion “would set a troubling precedent.”
An HMICFRS spokesperson stated, “We recognize the vital role journalists play in our democracy, which includes holding police accountable.”
The letter from the Society of Editors and the CRA stated, “An effective working partnership between the police service and journalists is crucial to the legitimacy of policing in the United Kingdom.”
“By continuing to require police officers and personnel to declare associations with journalists under the banner of anti-corruption activities, the policy continues to link them to the misconduct from which everyone seeks to remove themselves.”
The suggestion has also been criticized by the advocacy group Index, which describes media freedom as “a cornerstone of our democracy” and warns that authoritarian regimes view reporters as a “threat rather than an advantage.”
“Direction should not hinder healthy relationships.”
The national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW), Steve Hartshorn, stated that the organization “is unaware of any forces requiring individual officers to declare ties with journalists.”
The College of Policing said that journalists play an “important role” in holding police forces accountable and assisting services with news coverage, but it is expected that police will have protocols in place to “guard sensitive material.”
A spokeswoman explained, “This includes an obligation to declare any potential conflicts of interest to be open and transparent and to mitigate any dangers that may develop.”
“The guidance given to police forces should not hinder the police’s relationship with the media. We are collaborating with the National Police Chiefs’ Council and others to assess the guidance, and we will carefully consider any concerns presented.”