Fake news and the political spotlight are two challenges for policing comms in 2020

I can't seem to remember a time when hyperbole and rhetoric didn't obscure many of the challenges confronting the country.

We're living in interesting times for policing comms, argues chief constable Gareth Morgan
We're living in interesting times for policing comms, argues chief constable Gareth Morgan

'Unprecedented' has become a common prefix while disinformation and 'fake news' have become part of everyday language and, more worryingly, behaviour. It's a potent mix.

Add in the ever-changing political landscape and Brexit and it becomes even more challenging for public sector communicators to cut through this noise.

When I addressed members from the Association of Police Communicators recently, I don't think any of us could have predicted the magnitude of the challenges that policing has had to respond to in recent years.

A decade of austerity and the resulting cuts to police officers and staff, rising levels of serious violence, the ever-present threat from terrorism, the burgeoning growth in cyber crime, underpinned by ongoing political uncertainty.

All this adds to the day-to-day pressures on officers and staff and the necessary choices that have to be made to prioritise. The thought that you could ever do more with less has been consigned to history.

Policing has also found itself in the political spotlight in recent months.

Whether it's providing the backdrop to the PM's announcement of a drive to recruit 20,000 extra officers or becoming the focus of a Home Secretary's tweet questioning the value of digital communications, it's always a tough challenge to navigate this type of public attention and media scrutiny.

Very quickly, for the wrong reasons, we can find ourselves in that political spotlight and at the moment, I don't think it's moving away from policing too fast.

The context in which policing operates has also changed following significant rulings such as that in the privacy case brought by Sir Cliff Richard and, more recently, the recommendations on media-handling made by the Independent Office for Police Conduct and Sir Richard Henriques following their reports into Operation Midland – the investigation into allegations (now proven to be false) of VIP paedophiles.

This is complicated territory and we continue to work through it.

Policing, like so many other organisations, also continues to grapple with the modern phenomenon of 'fake news' in the context of the regulated media we are used to working with – and of the guidance we ourselves operate within.

This is a challenge for broadcasters, politicians and anyone interested in good journalism, and it is clear we are all, to varying degrees, struggling to come to terms with the nature of 'fake news' and its implications for democracy, truth and how we communicate.

It's true that we are living in interesting times.

What all these issues reinforce to me is the importance and ever-growing reliance that policing places on effective and professional communications during these 'unprecedented' times to ensure we remain focused on the public interest and that policing remains subject to appropriate challenge and scrutiny by the media.

As demand, crime and threats continue to evolve, it requires us to be constantly reforming, changing and reshaping.

This includes how we communicate and engage to build trust and confidence with the public we serve, to ensure we can police with legitimacy and succeed in tackling the many challenges we are facing.

Chief constable Gareth Morgan is the National Police Chiefs' Council lead for communication




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