Regions of lies and mistrust

The editor of the Eastern Daily Press, Nigel Pickover, said this week that the police regularly lied to his journalists.

He told a Society of Editors conference in Southampton: “We are made to feel like the enemy when really we are on the same side.”

Nottingham Post editor Mike Sassi said his paper now had “no relationship whatsoever” with the Nottinghamshire force, according to Hold The Front Page.  

Colette Paul, chief constable of Bedfordshire who also addressed the conference, called for “good strong, honest, robust relationships.” She added: “We need to show the public what we do and how we do it.”

She was dead right, but it’s not happening. You would have thought that establishing a bond of mutual trust with the public would be a top priority for any chief constable. Is this achievable with a hostile local media? I doubt it.

I was tempted to write that relations between the police and media are at an all-time low, but in truth they have been dire for years.

I have an idyllic memory of a duty sergeant in a little west country town allowing reporters to look at the station log book to see if we could find anything of interest. That was 35 years ago and this admittedly risky practice ended when my paper reported that officers were being investigated for allegedly possessing stolen meat.

Since then in most counties reporters have been expected to route their questions through press officers based at HQ. Some of these are brilliant and others utterly obstructive.

A level of mutual suspicion between journalists and police officers is inevitable. There is no escaping the fact that there is corruption in both professions, but most of this has involved national journalists and Metropolitan police. The regional media and county police forces are relatively untainted.

So why are relations between the police and media outside London so bad? Could police training be anything to do with it?

Who is giving provincial Chief Constables and their senior teams their media training? If it is being provided nationally without strong input from people with regional expertise then that would explain why so many police forces seem to be misreading the situation so badly.

There are as many trustworthy  local journalists as there are honest police officers. Without in any way compromising their independence and integrity, they ought to be able to find a way of working together.

GARETH WEEKES, Deep South Media.