New College of Policing guidance sets out rules of engagement with the media during major incidents

The part played by comms in coping with future terror attacks is outlined in new media relations guidance being issued to police forces in England and Wales this month.

New guidelines set out how the police will work with the media during major incidents, such as Borough Market (above left) Westminster Bridge (above right) and Manchester (below) (Pic credits: Andy Hampson/Victoria Jones/PA Wire/PA Images and @Nahlah
New guidelines set out how the police will work with the media during major incidents, such as Borough Market (above left) Westminster Bridge (above right) and Manchester (below) (Pic credits: Andy Hampson/Victoria Jones/PA Wire/PA Images and @Nahlah

Strategies developed to "cope with media interest" in high profile operations such as "terrorism or major incidents" will need the agreement of senior police officers.

The Authorised Professional Practice for media relations, drawn up by the College of Policing, states: "Media strategies should be agreed at senior operational level and include the appointment of a dedicated police spokesperson."

It adds: "This can provide the gold commander or senior investigating officer (SIO) with assurance that other police officers or staff will not divulge information that goes beyond the agreed media strategy and could compromise the investigation or operation."

The rules of engagement for police dealing with the media, published last week, apply to forces in England and Wales.

This comes just weeks after PRWeek revealed how the Metropolitan Police's comms team regularly rehearses its response to terror attacks, including the preparation of social media messages in advance.

The new guidance for forces describes the working relationship with journalists as "vital" and something that "can help solve crimes, bring offenders to justice and keep communities safe."

It sets out the parameters for working with the media, and there is no room for misunderstanding when officers are informed: "They must not provide informal tip-offs about operations."

Officers are reminded that reporting or filming from the scene of an incident is "part of the media's role and they should not be prevented from doing so from a public place."

The guidance adds: "Police have no power or moral responsibility to stop the filming or photographing of incidents or police personnel. It is for the media to determine what is published or broadcast, not the police."

For the first time, forces are to publicise internal investigations and misconduct matters – something the guidance says is "a matter of considerable and legitimate public interest."

The new guidance also states that unless there are "exceptional circumstances" officers will not release names or details which would lead to individuals who have been arrested, but not charged, being identified.

While comms specialists remain at the centre of media relations, they can be bypassed by police officers.

A section on the role of the corporate communications department was shortened during drafting of the new guidance.

This was done to make clear that corporate communications professionals can offer advice, but will not be involved in all media engagement, according to the College of Policing.

The new rules of engagement between police officers and journalists have been welcomed by the Association of Police Communicators (APComm).

Amanda Coleman, APComm chair, said: "Effective relationships with the media are essential to policing and our members work tirelessly to develop professional working arrangements."

And deputy chief constable Gareth Morgan, the National Police Chiefs' Council lead for media relations, commented: "The responsibility to be open, transparent and accountable is part of the Code of Ethics and sits with everybody in policing."

He called for the relationship between the police and the media to be "reset" and added: "An appropriate and professional relationship between the police and the media is in the public interest."


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