Secret police guidance links journalists with corruption, SoE warns

Posted on: August 29, 2022 by Claire Meadows

Secret guidance issued by the College of Policing to all police forces in England and Wales risks equating the media industry with wrongdoing and corruption, industry bodies have warned.

In a letter to the College of Policing, the Society of Editors and Crime Reporters Association said that the inclusion of ‘journalists’ within a secretive notifiable associations section of the College’s APP counter-corruption guidance risked equating the media profession with the wrong-doing and corruption journalists sought to uncover and should be dropped.

The APP guidance is issued to all forces in England and Wales and although the guidance on counter-corruption is available online, the section on ‘notifiable associations’ is restricted and therefore not open to public scrutiny.

The letter said: “It has recently come to our attention that APP guidance on counter-corruption contains a restricted section on ‘notifiable associations’ that includes journalists within a list of groups that require disclosure by officers in England and Wales in a bid to fight corruption. While the guidance’s implementation by individual forces appears to be fragmented, it is alarming that the guidance’s very existence only came to light following its inclusion within a report by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) earlier this year and, as such, it has not been subject to wider discussion or scrutiny.”

The letter comes as the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) decides whether to implement the APP guidance followed criticism in the HMIC report that MPS officers are not required to disclose associations with journalists in line with the national APP guidance. Both the Society and CRA expressed alarm at the time of the report’s publication following wording contained in it which appeared to equate journalists with extremist groups. The author of the report later apologised for the wording but the recommendation remained unchanged and its implementation is currently under review.

Calling on the College to remove journalists from the guidance’s ‘notifiable associations’ list, the Society and CRA said that a successful working relationship between the police and media on behalf of the public was vital and that any decision by the Met to implement the recommendation would set a worrying precedent.

It added: “The media fulfils a vital role in keeping the public informed about the work of the police and alongside bringing offenders to justice and helping keep communities safe, media scrutiny promotes transparency and aids understanding of how police forces across the UK operate. The inclusion of journalists within a ‘notifiable associations’ list in counter-corruption guidance gives the wrongful impression that reporters seek to corrupt or deceive and equates the profession with the wrongdoing and dishonesty that journalists work to uncover.

“A successful working relationship between the police service and journalists is vital to policing legitimacy in the UK and as the new Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley prepares to take office and seeks to improve public confidence in the force, the public’s perception of the police’s relationship with the media is just as important as the relationship itself. By continuing to force police officers and staff to list associations with journalists under the banner of counter-corruption efforts, the policy merely continues to associate both with the wrongdoing all seek to distance themselves from.”

A spokesman for the College of Policing said: “Journalists have an important role in holding police to account and supporting the service with news stories including appeals for information.

“There is a public expectation for the police to have policies in place to protect sensitive information held by the police which can include details of members of the public and police operations. This includes a requirement to declare any potential conflicts of interest in order to be open and transparent, as well as mitigate any risks that may arise.

“The guidance given to police forces should not impede healthy relationships between the police and the media. We are working with the National Police Chiefs’ Council and others to review the guidance and will listen very carefully to any issues raised by the media.”

The Society and CRA’s letter can be read in full here.