Relationship between police and journalists is broken, say media bodies

The relationship between police and the media “is broken and must be rebuilt”, a report listing 26 recommendations for change has said.

Communication between the two has deteriorated in recent years which has “allowed speculation to run unchecked”, the Crime Reporters Association (CRA), the Society of Editors (SoE) and the Media Lawyers Association (MLA) said in their joint report.

It raised particular concerns about “fewer background briefings by the police and the rise of social media commentators to fill the information vacuum.”

The spread of misinformation has damaged public confidence, it added.

Nicola Bulley inquest
A review of the investigation into the death of Nicola Bulley found the relationship between the media and police was ‘fractured’ (Handout/PA)

An independent College of Policing review of the investigation into Nicola Bulley’s disappearance in January 2023 found the relationship between police and the media “to be fractured”.

The report by media industry bodies, titled Police and the Media: Repairing the Relationship, responds to the review.

The Daily Mail’s Rebecca Camber, chair of the CRA and author of the report released on Friday, said: “The relationship between the press and police is broken and must be rebuilt.

“The Nicola Bulley investigation review revealed for the first time that this isn’t just an issue for journalists, it is a problem for police and ultimately the public who have lost faith in ordinary officers who put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe.

“There are major benefits for forces in opening up and being more transparent about officers’ work.

“Fundamentally, the police and the media need to start talking to each other again, trusting each other, telling the public about some of the heroic, often thankless work police do, day-in day-out.”

It cited three high-profile incidents where lack of reportable and non-reportable guidance from police allowed speculation to take over.

When Valdo Calocane stabbed two university students and a caretaker to death in 2023, a false rumour started to trend on X that a bomb had gone off in Nottingham.

Nottingham city centre incident
Rumours of a bomb going off in Nottingham at the time of three fatal stabbings were not dispelled by police (Peter Byrne/PA)

However, press officers refused answer if the claim was true.

Oxford Street tube station was evacuated in 2018 and at the same time witnesses noticed a car back-firing and a minor traffic collision.

The report said police, the media, and the public interpreted the three incidents “as a potential marauding attack” and a major police response ensued.

“Things escalated when a celebrity tweeted that he had heard gunshots in a department store”, it said.

“Eventually reporters on the ground noticed that firearms officers were standing down but it was some time before police guided reporters that the incident was not as it seemed.”

In 2017 reporters in the Parliament press room witnessed the murder of PC Keith Palmer through a window.

They asked the Metropolitan Police for guidance but the response was “just look on Twitter for updates”, the report said.

It added “this was a missed opportunity for the Met to ask reporters to hold off on publishing this fact until his family were informed.

“In the event, nothing was published until an official announcement was made, but only because the reporters concerned acted responsibly.”

Ms Camber said that police and the media “need to start talking to each other again, trusting each other.

“We need to change the perception from chief constable to PC level that it is the media who are the problem.

“We believe the media could be part of the solution for policing if we work together to rebuild the public’s trust and confidence.”

The recommendations included that all forces advertise their contact information on their websites and be prepared to answer calls.

Press officers should identify themselves by name and be “empowered” to provide guidance to reporters over the phone, it added.

It said police should hold reportable and non-reportable press briefings on major incidents, and should continue to email press releases rather than post information online because “it is unreasonable to expect a national reporter to keep tabs on 43 forces in this manner”.

Footage of arrests and police searches posted online have recently led to “highly critical commentary” of the officers involved, it added.

As a result, the report suggested forces provide guidance about the circumstances of incidents or release body-worn footage “to ensure that the public has a balanced view of what happened”.

Next week, police and media are meeting for a roundtable on how to fix the relationship, organised by the National Police Chiefs’ Council.

Dawn Alford, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: “The College of Policing has rightly recognised that urgent action is needed to re-set and rebuild the relationship between the police and the media which, for too long, has been mired by wrongful perceptions and mistrust.

“Our joint report offers some key recommendations that would help restore trust and a better working relationship between officers and journalists for the ultimate benefit of the public.”