How we in counter-terror comms responded to negative coverage over Extinction Rebellion

When a front page story in The Guardian last Saturday revealed that Extinction Rebellion and other environmental groups were included on a counter-terror document, Counter Terror Policing's comms team was under pressure to respond.

We responded to the story on multiple channels to get our side across, writes Christopher Terris Taylor
We responded to the story on multiple channels to get our side across, writes Christopher Terris Taylor

When dealing with a story that concerns an official document, you need to quickly get hold of a copy so you can properly judge the content and the context in which it was intended to be used.

The document in question was created as a reference guide to help police officers identify and understand the various signs and symbols they may come across – for example, when they police the lawful protests that take place across the UK on a weekly basis.

There was a clear operational need for this document and it even contained an explicit explanation that many of the groups and organisations mentioned within the pages were lawful protest groups with no links to criminality of any kind, let alone terrorism.

You're lucky to get more than a couple of paragraphs to respond with in an article, so we knew we needed to make our point in several ways – first, a strong rebuttal to The Guardian; and second, a blog post where we could give the more nuanced explanation of why the document was created and what its intended use was.

A key part of that blog post was the page of the document where it states that the groups mentioned were not necessarily terrorism-related, because that directly contradicted the thrust of the Guardian article – which argued that CTP considers environmental groups like XR to be extremist.

The blog was prepared to coincide with the article's publication and we created social-media posts to try to immediately give our side of the story across multiple channels upon publication. We primarily used our official accounts, but also those of relevant senior officers, to do this.

Now read: Battle lines drawn between activists and police in comms war

We also shared our Guardian response, blog post and key messages with stakeholders and even with influential former officers who are often approached by the media to comment on the latest CT stories – to make sure our message was reaching as many people as possible.

Our approach will always be to ensure that our side of the story is readily available online, on social media channels and anywhere else the story might appear.

Just because a group or organisation appears in a document with a CTP logo on it, that does not automatically mean we consider it to be a CT risk – and we have made that abundantly clear in every piece of comms we have done around this story.

Keeping the country safe from terrorism is a huge collective effort, only possible with incredible support from the public, and that it is a task that requires 100 per cent of our focus, every minute of every day.

That means our focus is absolutely not on lawful protest or legitimate causes taken up by activists across the country, and we do not wish law-abiding supporters of legitimate environmental organisations to wrongly believe that they are of any interest to us as counter-terrorism police.

Christopher Terris Taylor is the media manager at Counter Terror Policing

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