A new 56-page report documenting the made-for-television, cozy relationships between police and media during the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World offers proof-positive that truth is stranger than fiction.
Most notable, the independent report offers advice, based on real examples, on how to change the way London’s Metropolitan Police work with the media. There are some legitimate gems in the tip sheet, but some are uniquely catered for the apparently cozy relationships in the U.K.
My favorite is the “late-night carousing” warning and how another bottle of wine might get you to spill the beans. Advice from the report simply says, “Avoid.” It’s true, drinking with a journalist is never a good idea, but I’m not sure it happens very often these days—at least on this side of the pond.
A related media tactic in the report is under the heading “Flirting,” and it’s about being careful about dropping your defenses. There is some good advice, such as reporter traps that lead you to confirm information with misleading questions or flat-out lying.
The author of the report said:
“The relationship we have with the media is an important one, we want to be as open and transparent as possible with the press because we are a public service and we need to be held to account, and we need the press and the public to help us prevent and detect crime. But there should be no more secret conversations, there should be no more improper contact—that which is of selfish not public interest. Meetings will no longer be enhanced by hospitality and alcohol.”
Here’s the list included in the “Ethical Issues Arising From The Relationship Between Police and Media” report:
1. Alcohol. Late-night carousing, long sessions, yet another bottle of wine at lunch—these are all long-standing media tactics to get you to spill the beans. Avoid.
2. Flirting. Often interlinked with alcohol. Designed to get you to drop your defenses and say far more than you intended. Be careful.
3. “I’ll make it worth your while.” If you think they mean money, say no and beat a hasty retreat. Make sure the press office and Department of Professional Standards know.
4. “A source told me the name of the man you arrested. Can you confirm the spelling?” Say no. This could be a tactic to get you to confirm a name they have been given from elsewhere so they can print it. It may be a guess, or it could be a ruse.
5. “I’ll be sacked if I miss the deadline in ten minutes. You’ve got to tell me.” Don’t be rushed. “If you don’t help me, I’m going to write a really knocking story.” They’ll probably knock you anyway. Don’t give in to threats.
6. “Can you slip me a picture? The family said it’s OK.” Did they? Does it meet the rules for disclosing pictures? What does the press office say?
7. You are on a highly sensitive investigation and the Senior Investigating Officer warned you of the dire consequences if you talked to the media, then wouldn’t it be very foolish of you to leak?
8. As a constable or sergeant, or scenes of crime officer, you may know more than your inspector or superintendent, but if you don’t get permission to deal with the media you put yourself at risk.
9. Don’t get sucked into the hurricane. Many of those who criticize police for “leaking to the media” have never watched the media descend, like a tropical storm, on a town/village/crime scene, laying bare every possible fact. They WILL establish the name and life-story of the suspect. If you’ve agreed an approach to certain information with your press office, stick to it and record it. You can then defend yourself against leak allegations.
10. It may help to assume you are being recorded when you talk to journalists.
(This post also appears on Ragan’s PRDaily)