2 Relations with the Media|
5. The importance of an unencumbered media, free
to report on large-scale events like the G20 Protests, is self-evident,
not just as an end in itself but because a good relationship between
the media and the police can be mutually beneficial. As ACC Duncan
McCausland of the Police Service of Northern Ireland told us:
We have found it far easier, in effect to help the
media do their job and the media work with us in terms of what
we are trying to achieve on the day, because the media are part
of the community and part of potentially providing a win-win situation
and a compromise.
6. It is clear from ACC McCausland's comments that
good relations with the media before, during and after large-scale
events should be viewed by the police as a valuable resource and
therefore a high priority. While we were told that the Metropolitan
Police values good relations with the media because "it is
in our interests that things are reported accurately"
we question whether during the G20 Protests this really was the
case. We have received evidence which has suggested that during
the G20 Protests (and similar events at Kingsnorth) the police
have not been as diligent as could be expected in building good
relations with members of the press. We were particularly concerned
to hear allegations of:
- A lack of communications between
police and journalists prior to, and during the protests;
- Ignorance, or at least non-application, of the
ACPO Guidelines on this area; and
- The use of Section 14 of the Public Order Act
1986 against journalists.
However, we saw little evidence that members of the
press were specifically "targeted",
as has been implied in the newspapers and as Jeremy Dear told
us. We accept that because of the nature of the work of journalists
and the situations in which they place themselves, a certain amount
of what has been called "collateral damage" is to be
expected. We have been told that the number of claims lodged by
the NUJ after the G20 Protests is proportionally the same as at
similar events, which
suggests to us that there was no specific, systematic effort on
behalf of the police to target journalists or prevent them going
about their business.
7. The police said that they value relationships
with the media and invest a large amount of effort in facilitating
journalist's needs; Sir Hugh Orde told us explicitly that "we
brief before, we brief during and we brief after".
In practice this means that at any large public demonstration
in Northern Ireland, "the media have our contact points in
terms of our press officer
and facilitation can be made
to facilitate the media where it is operationally feasible to
move them around"
and all officers are briefed on the "handling of the media"
on the day of the events.
According to Sir Hugh Orde, during the policing of public protest
in Northern Ireland, the police's objectives are clear, "everyone
knowing what is going to happen as best you can".
8. We do not doubt that this was the aim of the Metropolitan
Police Service prior to, and during the G20 Protests, in the run-up
to the policing of the G20 there appears to have been a 'capabilities-expectations'
gap between the police's intentions and what actually occurred.
Mr Dear told us that, while a briefing was given to members of
the media, it was concentrated on those journalists representing
large media organisations such as the BBC. There was not a briefing
with the vast majority of, usually freelance, journalists who
planned to attend the protests.
Equally, it seems that the briefing was not then disseminated
among the rank-and-file police officers. Mr Dear complained about
a lack of consistency in police actions, with some officers respecting
the rights of the press and others not understanding the rights
and responsibilities implicit on the police in these situations.
We were told that that lower ranked officers also seemed unaware
of the presence of a designated contact point or were unwilling
to refer any issues regarding press access to more senior officers.
9. There are already ACPO Guidelines in this area.
As Jeremy Dear told us:
There is a set of guidelines drawn up by ACPO
that are meant to govern access requirements, what are the rights
and responsibilities of journalists and, in particular, photographers
and camera crew when they are covering public order incidents.
The problem is too few of the officers on the front line say they
have heard of them, know how to implement them, [or] recognise
the press card.
Commander Broadhurst commented that, "when there
is a disorderly situation they [journalists] have no more right
than the ordinary citizen to come through all our cordons"an
apparent contradiction of the ACPO Guidelines which state: "We
[the police] should actively help them carry out their responsibilities
provided they do not interfere with ours."
Leaving aside the question of how "disorderly" the
protests really were and remembering that the ACPO Guidelines
are not binding, we are concerned that this attitude from senior
officers goes a long way to explaining the somewhat dismissive
attitudes of front-line officers to the press. Police relations
with the media is not an issue of guidelines, but is instead one
of training and briefing
accept that it is not possible for all officers on front-line
duty, some of whom may be inexperienced in this line of work,
to know, understand and fully implement the ACPO Guidelines, particularly
in a high tension environment like the G20 Protests. However,
we cannot understand why those officers who were unable to communicate
with journalists were not willing or able to pass this problem
on to a more experienced officer. We suggest that at the heart
of most communication difficulties encountered by journalists
is a lack of leadership on the ground and an inadequate briefing
before the protests.
11. At the
very least all officers should be aware of the existence of a
designated media contact point, who is trained in basic communication
with journalists and able to give correct information on request.
It seems to us that some members of the media experienced a broken
chain of command and ignorance on the part of the police which
impaired their ability to do their jobs.
12. It was not only the behaviour of individuals
which hindered communications with the media, but failings in
the systems and structure put in place. Commander Broadhurst assured
us that he made every effort to communicate with officers on the
frontline and remind them of their responsibilities to the media
but he also admitted that "we need a better way of communicating
to the officers at the front of the cordons"
and that a "message takes a long, long time to get down to
the front line".
Aside from reiterating the need for better briefings before protests,
so limiting the need for subsequent communication, this highlights
the lack of real devolution of responsibility to those on the
13. We accept
the difficulties implicit in briefing freelance journalists, some
of whom may not wish to be contacted by the police prior to an
event, and to some extent we sympathise with the Metropolitan
Police who appear to be keen to improve relations in this area.
However, more must be done. While accepting that it is not possible
to brief every journalist who wishes to attend large public protests,
and that at the G20 Protests budgetary and time constraints prevented
every officer from being adequately briefed beforehand on "handling
the media", we propose two relatively simple solutions which
could be implemented at little cost.
14. Since it
is to everyone's benefit that the relationship between the police
and journalists is clear and codified, we suggest that the briefings
given to members of the media before public protests be published
on the website of the police and the National Union of Journalists
prior to the event. While there may be operational reasons why
a complete brief cannot be published, we are surprised that a
version of this information is not made public already. In this
way anyone who is planning to attend a public protest in a media
capacity will have the ability to receive a briefing in this area
and at the very least be assured that a media contact point will
be available on the day. We urge the police to consider this action.
we cannot understand why experienced officers on the ground were
not granted a degree of discretion in how the police strategies
were enacted. While we accept that communications between the
control centre and the front-line can always be improved, we are
yet to be convinced of the absolute necessity of why a relatively
simple message like "please let them out if they are bona
fide press" needed to be sent from the Gold Commander, who
presumably had many other more pressing matters to concern him.
16. We recommend
that in its promised review of police tactics on public order
situations HMIC looks at the command structure at big events and
considers the benefits of allowing experienced officers on the
ground the power to make relatively simple, non-controversial
decisions such as these. As far as possible, power should be devolved
to officers on the ground authorised to react to changing situations.
The use of Section 14 and non-identification
17. Section 14 of the Public Order Act gives the
senior police officer discretion to end or limit protests where
this may be "necessary to prevent disorder, damage, disruption
or intimidation" and the protest continuing "may result
in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious
disruption to the life of the community".
The use of this power against journalists, coupled with the non-identification
of officers. typifies the somewhat contradictory attitude of the
police towards the press during the G20 protests. Both actions
suggest, rightly or wrongly, that the police felt that they had
something to hide. This is a dangerous perception to foster, particularly
as, "The reality is, as every officer should be fully aware
whether or not the press are there, cameras are now everywhere."
18. This was borne out in the footage of force used
against, among others Nicola Fisher and tragically, Ian Tomlinsonthis
footage was almost instantly uploaded onto the internet and transmitted
around the world. The police's actions in each case may or may
not be justifiable but they were certainly shocking. Actions which
may appear justifiable in the cold light of day can be extremely
troubling when relayed instantaneously around the globe. While
these images provide only one, possibly misleading viewpoint,
they undeniably have power to shake the public's confidence in
the police and negatively affect their perception of the performance
of the police at the G20.
19. The police
must be aware that, as a matter of course, their actions will
be filmed whether or not journalists are present. They must amend
their attitude and tactics accordingly. The police should be aware
that in the modern world actions which may be justifiable under
the rules may nonetheless be completely unacceptable.
20. Both at the G20 Protests and the protest at Kingsnorth
Power Station in Kent the police have used Section 14 of the Public
Order Act to disperse journalists. We heard from Jeremy Dear that
Section 14 was used in an apparently pre-meditated fashion to
remove journalists from an area, rather than as a response to
"serious public disorder".
We will return to general questions on the use of Section 14
later, but if, as Jeremy Dear alleged, it was used in this fashion
then it would clearly be a misuse of powers granted to the police.
The fact that the police have in both cases apologised does not
excuse the fact that forcing members of the press to leave an
area without justification sends out completely the wrong signal
of the police's intentions and does not help the police build
strong relationships with the media. For this reason alone the
misuse of Section 14 must be addressed.
21. This impression was reinforced by the fact that
some officers were seen not wearing their identification numbers.
According to Nick Hardwick, this is an "absolute obligation"
on the part of the police and Sir Paul Stephenson called it a
"statement of the blindingly obvious. Uniformed officers
should always be identifiable".
We accept that there are, in some cases, justifiable reasons for
police not to wear their identification,
and that the numbers of officers involved may have been exaggerated,
but the impression given is still clear and worrying:
Certainly, in the public order work, we are aware
of the implications of officers not being identified, because
it gives the impression that they are trying to cover up their
actions, which is clearly wrong.
echo Sir Paul Stephenson's comments: in many ways the problem
for the police in these situations is not their actual actions,
but the perception that they are seeking to avoid accountability
for these actions. We are therefore surprised that the problems
of identification posed when officers change into protective equipment
have not been addressed before and recommend more funding specifically
for solutions in this area.
23. Senior officers
must take personal responsibility for ensuring that all officers
are displaying their identification numbers and the individual
officer must be provided with enough numbers so that these can
be worn at all times and on all equipment. It would be helpful
if the Home Office and Metropolitan Police would let us know the
length of time it takes between the ordering of a new identification
badge and this badge being delivered to the individual officer.
It is unacceptable for officers not to wear identification numbers
at such events; this must be a matter of the highest priority.
We urge that any officers found to be deliberately removing their
identification face the strongest possible disciplinary measures
and the police must make every effort to be identifiable at all
4 Q277 Back
Guidelines for Metropolitan Police Service Staff on dealing with
media reporters, press photographers and television crews. Back
The full act can be found at: http://www.statutelaw.gov.uk/content.aspx?activeTextDocId=2236942 Back