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Stop treating journalists like criminals, says Met Chief

14 November 2017


Police officers should favour openness and transparency and stop treating journalists like criminals, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner said yesterday.

Speaking in a keynote address to senior media figures at the Society of Editors ‘Fighting for Real News’ conference, Cressida Dick said that she valued the role the media played in supporting the police’s work and wished to “reset” the force’s relationship with journalists.

She said: We need the public's support and help to put bad people behind bars. Journalists and police officers are often working towards the same goals. Both want to investigate those intent on harm, both want to expose what that harm is, bring it to an end and expose those responsible.

"Both journalists and officers want to work for those who on their own would be powerless and vulnerable. Both want to get to the truth."

The Commissioner, who was appointed to the role in February 2017, said that it was the role of the media to challenge the police and that, in comparison with other countries, the force was held to account in the UK.

She added: “Let us be clear, compared to most, I suspect nearly all of the world, UK police are extremely accountable, scrutinised and transparent.

“However that does not give us an excuse to say 'don't challenge us'. As a citizen, I don't want to see media freedom curbed – if we are getting the balance wrong we should be held to account.”

Miss Dick said police officers should not consider communicating with the media as akin to engaging in dialogue with a criminal and that officers should be confident in talking to the press. 

She said: “One of the things that has concerned me coming back into the Met is that relationships with journalists in some police organisations are as though they have been categorised in the same way as they are a relationship with a criminal. 

“I think that sends out completely the wrong message and destroys confidence on all sides. You have my word that won’t be happening in the Met.

“My basic message is ‘don't be afraid, get out there and do it'. Every day we see crimes solved because of the media attention — that is one reason why our relationship is so important."

Discussing the coverage of terrorist attacks, which formed the basis of a wider discussion at the conference, the Commissioner called for calm in the reporting of such atrocities. 

She said: “You must inform but not glorify and provide the platform this evil craves. You must investigate but not in a dangerous way which disrupts the extensive efforts of the police and security services. You must comment but not in a way that creates excessive fear and multiplies the terror.”

The Commissioner concluded her speech by vowing to promote openess and transparency and more engagement with the media, including opportunities for trainee journalists to learn more about what the Metropolitan police force does. 

She said: " I will encourage my force to be as open and transparent as possible within professional boundaries whilst maintaining the integrity of our investigations and responsibility in holding the most personal information. I will listen to criticism and new ideas. The Met will be outward facing, confident but humble.

"It is in our interest and yours that we provide content that engages your readers and gives us all the satisfaction of catching criminals and helping crime to be prevented. I will guarantee a senior officer at a minimum of four industry wide events a year to provide context and understand of a policing issue. We will work with the Society of Editors on this. We will arrange a minimum of one media/police training exercise a year and I will guarantee every newly qualified NCTJ reporter on a local London newspaper the opportunity to join a borough response team for a busy night shift."

Watch the keynote address by Cressida Dick here

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