The Society of Editors is “deeply concerned” by proposed changes to the College of Policing’s Media Relations guidance which, it said, could see forces given the option of whether to name individuals upon charge.
The guidance, which is currently under review, proposes that suspects charged with offences “can be named” by forces whereas current guidance states that suspects “should be named”. Other proposed changes include recommending to forces that charging information is only released “where the crime is of a serious nature such as rape or murder” or where the incident has already been reported in the media or on social media sites.
The Society, which has reviewed the proposed changes alongside the Crime Reporters Association, has stressed its opposition to the changes and said that any amendments to the guidelines for all forces in England and Wales, must “strengthen” rather than “restrict” the public’s right to know.
Dawn Alford, Executive Director of the Society of Editors said: “The Society is deeply concerned that proposals contained within the revised guidance look set to place unprecedented restrictions upon the flow of information provided by the police to journalists.
“Misplaced concerns around data protection and defendants’ privacy rights are being used as a basis to allow forces to choose which criminal charges they confirm to the media and non-custodial penalties such as fines, out of court disposals and cautions, could become non-verifiable with press officers.
“A successful working relationship between the police and the media remains essential to policing legitimacy in the UK and the Society remains in dialogue with the College of Policing to reverse these draconian proposals and strengthen, rather than restrict, the public’s right to know.”
Ensuring the guidance is compatible with data protection law is understood to be the driving force behind the proposed policy changes which also tells forces that they “must consider their data protection obligations as well as the need for open justice and transparency”.
Responding to a report on Press Gazette about the proposed changes, a spokesperson for the College of Policing said: “A successful working relationship between the police service and the media is vital. Guidance is in place to support the relationship between the media and police forces and was previously developed working with the media.
“The guidance requires updating following the introduction of new data protection legislation. We are working with the Society of Editors, the Crime Reporters Association and the Information Commissioner’s Office to develop new guidance which will be published soon.”