Published on 4 Jan 2012 Sections

Police warned over links with journalists

Police officers should adopt consistent standards in how they relate to the media – and avoid drinking or flirting with members of the press, according to a new report.

This new relationship between the Metropolitan Police and the media should be complemented by a more open approach to communicating with the public.

The report, by former parliamentary commissioner Elizabeth Filkin, focuses on the ethical issues arising from the relationship between police and media.

It advises police officers to avoid “flirting” and accepting alcohol from journalists. Officers are also urged to keep a note of any conversation they have with members of the press.

Ms Filkin is critical of the leaking of information for various benefits, including “vanity, ‘buzz’, flirtation, a sense of power and control, and professional advantage during employment within the MPS or to gain future employment elsewhere”.

Elizabeth Filkin report: seven recommendations

(1) More open approach to communication with the public on the part of the MPS.
(2) The MPS senior team must set a consistent example on ethical standards.
(3) Senior MPS member to initiate changes in the approach to integrity and ethics issues.
(4) Officers providing information to media should make record of what they provide.
(5) Police contact with the media should be "permissible but not unconditional".
(6) MPS to develop routes for communicating with public, releasing more information.
(7) MPS must create environment where improper information disclosure is condemned.

She cites one account by a Metropolitan Police officer where the media was given information about “the tragic death of a vulnerable person” before the next of kin had been informed, simply in order to prevent publication of damaging information about a member of the Metropolitan Police managing board.

The report also expresses concern over police officers who go on to work in the media or as private detectives.

The appendix includes a list of “things to remember when you have contact with the media”, with the warning that “alcohol is a risk. Police could ban alcohol in media dealings as some journalists do not practice abstinence”.

It goes on to list “Ten tactics used by some in the media”, which include alcohol, flirting, possible bribery, requests for pictures, and the recommendation: “Don’t get sucked into the hurricane”.

Cavalier approach to 'reputational damage'

A number of police officers are quoted in this report, some of them anonymously, writes Channel 4 News Home Affairs Correspondent Andy Davies.

Perhaps one of the most striking of these contributions concerns what Elizabeth Filkin labels as"trading" - where the Met has effectively offered inducements to journalists to stop them running stories which could prove damaging to the Yard's image. In other words: bury that story and we'll give you a better one. Filkin cites the comments of one unnamed officer who alleges that an "exclusive" revealing the death of a vulnerable person was "traded" with a journalist before the victim's family was even informed.

The "trade" was intended, said the officer, to stop the journalist from publishing another story which contained "damaging information about a member of [the Met's] Management Board". It resulted, according to the officer, in the mother of the victim learning about her child's death not from a police liaison officer, but from a reporter knocking on her door.

Ms Filkin declined to give any details about the story which was apparently suppressed regarding the senior Scotland Yard officer. But if true (and it hasn't been challenged by the police), then this astonishing episode illustrates just how cavalier, at times, the Met's approach to limiting "reputational damage" has been.