Meet the Press

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I know some brilliant journalists. I’m proud to count some of them as friends. And dealing with the media is an important part of my job – something, believe it or not, that I actually enjoy.

As a police officer, I have a professional responsibility to engage, to respond, to explain – and, dare I say, to offer an insight into the person behind the uniform.

But, truth be told, these are challenging times for relationships between the police and the press – with each seeming to nurse and nurture a set of grievances about the other that sets the tone for so many of our dealings.

The potential causes for this are well documented, but I don’t think anyone benefits from the current state of play: police, press or public.

The fact is that the police service needs the media:

To help us in protecting the vulnerable.

To assist us in catching the dangerous.

To support us in getting critical messages out to the wider community.

To inquire. To hold us to account. On occasions, to ask deeply uncomfortable questions.

We do our job better when journalists do their job well.

Policing occupies a unique place in society and, as I have suggested before, we ought to be held to a higher standard than anyone else – not least because of the promises we have made and the powers we have been given. And the experience of recent history reinforces the view that when policing gets it wrong – individually or institutionally – the consequences are likely to be disproportionately damaging.

I want the media to keep us honest and true. I want them to question and challenge and to be bloody awkward when circumstances demand. I don’t want them to allow us to get away with a single thing.

But (and this is one of those significant ‘buts’), there are other things I want from them too. Beginning with a far greater balance – and sometimes accuracy – in the coverage provided of this extraordinary job I do.

The prevailing narrative when it comes to policing can be astonishingly negative. In fact, I can think of no other public service so consistently under fire. I’m not looking for anyone’s sympathy, but I am seeking some recognition and understanding. The imbalance damages our relationships with victims and communities – and it has a very real impact on our own people.

Sometimes, it feels as though the only story being told about policing is the one suggesting that we are incompetent. Or corrupt. Or racist. And in the vast majority of cases, the vast majority of the time, that simply isn’t true. In fact, the complete opposite is true.

In most cases, the things that police officers do take my breath away: their bravery, their brilliance, their simple human decency. But these don’t tend to be the stories that get told. On the contrary, the focus is relentlessly on the negative – often with language and headlines chosen seemingly to make things as difficult for us as possible. On occasions, the coverage is downright inaccurate.

Twice in the last week or so, I have seen colleagues challenging news headlines broadcast on social media. Both concerned allegations of shocking crimes perpetrated by police officers. And, in both cases, the casual reader was left free to conclude that these events had happened in the UK. In fact, one crime took place in America and the other happened in Afghanistan.

Mistakes, mischief or malice?

Then there was the story published online a few days back – concerning a five-year-old boy who was hit by a police car. The language used in the article was remarkably emotive, suggesting that the child had been ‘mown down’ – and emphasising that the patrol vehicle was not using blue lights at the time. Exactly the sort of horrifying circumstances likely to impact negatively on public opinions about who we are and what we do.

Except that the content of article was, at best, misleading. It required a direct written response from the boy’s dad to explain that his son had lost his footing on the kerb and fallen into the road. He pointed out that it was a freak accident and that no one was to blame.

I will never be a blind apologist for policing. We are capable of getting things spectacularly wrong and, when we do, it is absolutely right that we face the consequences. I don’t for one moment want to shy away from stories that are difficult for us – not least because doing so allows for the repetition of dreadful mistakes.

But we are also capable of getting things spectacularly right. And I could tell you endless tales…

Of lives being saved, of missing people being found, of escaped prisoners being recaptured, of killers and sexual predators being tracked down and detained, of sieges being ended, of organised crime networks being dismantled, of desperate souls being talked back from the edge. Stories of extraordinary courage and remarkable compassion. Stories of the everyday heroism of the men and women who police our streets

And those, surely, are stories worth telling.

 

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8 thoughts on “Meet the Press

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  1. I know exactly what you mean about ‘Media’.
    I was fortunate to spend 3 years living in the suburbs of Las Vegas. One morning in 2009, the News Bulletin was dominated by an overnight story, of a Cop who had been killed when his patrol car had been T-Boned by a pick-up truck at a junction a few miles from where we lived, in the quiet outer suburbs.
    The pick-up driver had left a bar a few minutes earlier and was now under arrest for killing the Police Officer.The Bulletin was 100% about ‘Hero Cops’ and ‘Drunk Drivers’.

    Over the following days, there was a full reversal in Media coverage as the truth emerged.
    At approaching 01.00am, so practically nothing else on the road…

    The pick-up driver was well within the legal limit and was making a legitimate turn across the road.

    The Cop was doing 100+mph in a 45 zone with no lights or sirens active,

    See these two links

    http://lasvegassun.com/news/2009/may/07/metro-police-officer-duty-killed-collision/

    http://lasvegassun.com/news/2009/jun/05/police-recommend-dropping-all-charges-against-calv/

    A sad case but a classic example of Media initial reactions.

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  2. I tend to agree with a lot of this, but as a journalist I have to say one of the main reasons the positive stories don’t come out is the absolute incompetence of some police press offices.
    Policy dictates journalists can no longer speak directly to officers and many coppers are too afraid of reprimand – and rightly so – that they won’t break this rule.
    This is fine – except when the one role of the press team seems to be to stifle any enquiry or to simply put out dull or delayed press releases.
    So many good stories aren’t reported because the media don’t know about them or are frustrated in attempts to tell them.
    In my patch last weekend, two PCs saved a pensioner from a burning building. This was tweeted by other officers and by the chief constable, but nothing from the press office. The tweeters wouldn’t give any more details – just referred to the press office. It was two more days before the press team put the officers up for interview – by which point the story was old and got less coverage than it would have otherwise.
    This is just one example of how hard it is for journalists having to deal with incompetent, lazy and workshy press officers – it does the police officers doing great work no favours at all.
    Of course, with the negative stories there are less blocks of this kind – they can just run.

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    1. Most force press offices are only happy to act as a PSD mouth piece and will only willingly report bad news. Anything else is like drawing blood from a stone.

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    2. “A Journalist”

      I agree, some press releases are very delayed and very stunted, when quite often a more personal approach is required rather than a formal statement.

      Come see positive police U.K. On Facebook

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  3. I’m a former journalist now working as a special inspector. Every time i mention my old role in a room full of colleagues it’s like I have told them I’m a burglar.
    Not all media hacked phones! I worked for two national news television channels and the journalists there were some of the finest in the country. Alastair Stewart’s son went on to join the Met etc.
    The point I am making here is the Police need the media and vice Versa. Without Jeremy Thompson and his producer Ed Fraser’s instinct then Ian Huntley may not have been locked up.
    However, police press offices are stretched to the limit and some are not equipped for 24 hour news.
    Also the days of ” the assailant proceeded in a westerly direction” are gone. Cops need to be nimble and talk like real people. I am really impressed by Kingston Police in the Met. I think they get the balance right. It’s not been a good time for the red tops with hacking or various journalists being accused of such. But now a line needs to be drawn and if it needs intervention from a jointing working party then I would be happy to set it up and lead it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Refreshing to hear your viewpoint – There are two sides to a story. I think the press is sometimes overly sensational in their quest to get attention, making it even more difficult for the officers to do their job.

      Liked by 1 person

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