The deceptions of media policies – Janner, the Met and many more

I had not really wanted to return to Lord Janner, Alison Saunders and the Met for a few days.

But the combination of a lack of other relevant topics today and an interesting article in yesterday’s Times has lured me back into the subject – and led me to think that there is another area of evasion that is worth pursuing.

This is the corporate concept – which I am certain can only grow – of having a “media policy.”

The Times article reports accusations that Special Branch files on Lord Janner were destroyed more than a decade ago. I leave it to those with more expertise on this issue, to assess the claims.

I was intrigued by a comment in the last par of the story which said:”The Met (Metropolitan Police – London’s police force) said last night that its media policies prevented it from discussing a named individual.”

Assuming this to be a correct report, and interested that there was such a thing a media policy, I looked it up on the Met’s website. Sure enough there is one: http://www.met.police.uk/foi/pdfs/policies/media_policy_2014.pdf

The statement is pretty vague but at no point that I can see does the policy (as opposed to any legal restraints there might or might not be) ban discussion of a named individual. Indeed the words “named individual” don’t appear in this document.

The most relevant paragraphs are:

“MPS officers and staff should be as open and transparent as possible about all policing activity whilst ensuring operations, investigations, prosecutions, tactics and techniques, and the safety and security of the public are not compromised by the release of information.

We should protect any personal and confidential information we hold, including information about victims, witnesses, and suspects. We should release only that which is approved at the appropriate level as being necessary for a bona-fide policing purpose, including the maintenance of public confidence.”

That is so vaguely phrased that it can be used to justify almost any decision to discuss or not discuss something. However, it would seem to me that the “maintenance of public confidence” could well be an argument for talking about the Janner case.

I am going to look out for other corporations that are adopting media policies.

But to start with here is the one used by the Crown Prosecution Service, the official prosecutors in England and Wales. It has a statement on its website called: “Publicity and the Criminal Justice System; Protocol for working together: Chief Police Officers, Chief Crown Prosecutors and the Media.”

It is worth reading though it probably wont leave you much wiser about what they will actually say to the media.  http://www.cps.gov.uk/publications/agencies/mediaprotocol.html

A more appropriate summary of the policy might be: If you win, say how brilliant you all are; if you lose, issue a statement saying it was someone else’s fault.

I am not going to say here whether the Met was right to remain silent about Janner – or whether companies should have media policies.

But I do want to warn you not to be seduced into acquiescence by those little phrases used to justify evading the subject. Phrases such as “media policy,” “reviewing our procedures,” “research proves,” “independent experts say”, “legal advice” “confidentiality agreement.”

It is all too easy to accept corporate speak like this without challenge.

Instead, check it out. Is it really media policy? Who is responsible for the procedures that have failed? Does the research really prove anything and is it really independent? Is that legal advice as rigid as they suggest and is the confidentiality agreement legitimate?

Its the only way to ensure that those in power are not evading and avoiding the questions they are being legitimately asked.

.

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