Police and the Media - Home Affairs Committee Contents

1  Introduction

1.  In May 2008 the Home Affairs Committee announced its intention to investigate the relationship between the police and the media, in particular:

  • The practice of holding off-the-record briefings during on-going police operations;
  • Instances where police forces have failed to release information to the media; and
  • Attempts by police to control media reporting.

2.  Interaction between police forces and journalists has become more frequent and increasingly professionalised in recent times. The relationship can often be mutually beneficial, ensuring the media have access to crime stories, so better to inform the public, and providing a cost-effective tactic for police forces to appeal to the public for information to assist their investigations.

3.  However, we considered that some of the less positive aspects of this relationship warranted examination. We were concerned to hear accounts of the damaging impact of off-the-record briefings, particularly during counter-terrorism operations; apparent media tip-offs about the arrest or questioning of high-profile suspects in the "cash-for-honours" and "football bungs" investigations; allegations that some police forces were attempting to 'spin' crime figures by not releasing information about individual crimes to the media; and the decision by West Midlands Police and Crown Prosecution Service to refer the Channel 4 Dispatches programme, Undercover Mosque, to the media regulator, Ofcom.

4.  As a result, on 4 November 2008 we took evidence from Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, Jon Silverman, former BBC home affairs correspondent and Professor in Criminal Justice and Media at the University of Bedfordshire, Deputy Chief Constable Andy Trotter, Chair of the Association of Chief Police Officers' Media Advisory Group, and Deputy Chief Constable Phil Gormley of the West Midlands Police.

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Prepared 18 January 2009