Met Police to step up online comms

G20 protests Metropolitan Police comms head speaks out in wake of G20 media reputation nightmare.

The Metropolitan Police's top comms executive this week acknowledged the Met's reputation had been hit by a number of recent negative stories - and said he would place greater focus on dealing with social media in the future.

Dick Fedorcio, director of public affairs and corporate comms, spoke to PRWeek in the wake of media furore over the G20 death of Ian Tomlinson. He said internal polling was still being collated, but he 'would be naive to think it has not had an effect' on the Met's reputation.

Research by TNS Media Intelligence for PRWeek has revealed that from 10 to 16 April there were 217 negative articles in the national press about the police, 42 per cent of them focused on the G20 death and 27 per cent related to the anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy.

Fedorcio has no plans to review the Met's strategy for dealing with mainstream media, post-G20. However, he revealed a priority in the long term was to improve its dealings with social media.

Online video footage from the G20 protests has revealed just how vulnerable the police force is to 'citizen journalism'. Fedorcio said responding to the 'potentially massive' challenge of proactive and reactive social media management was top of his agenda.

He said: 'How would we have used it in the G20? We could have put up a video of a different story, of a demonstration being handled peacefully. But how could we do that in the middle of an investigation? There are ethical questions.'

No time frame has yet been set for the development of this agenda, although Fedorcio admitted that 'ideally one would be well down the path now.' He also said such a function would be handled under himself rather than by a standalone department.

But Fedorcio rejected suggestions that the Met's handling of the media immediately after the G20 death of Ian Tomlinson was improper.

The Met's PR operation has been criticised for delaying making a statement on Tomlinson's death by three hours, and when it did so, the statement pointed the finger of blame at protesters.

But Fedorcio said: 'We reviewed what we said on the tragic death of Tomlinson and I am satisfied we did not mislead anyone. What we told at the time was what we knew.'

He added the Independent Police Complaints Commission took over the media handling of Tomlinson's death when its investigation started at around midnight on the night of his death.

HOW I SEE IT - Andrew Griffin, MD, Regester Larkin

The bad news for the Met just will not stop coming and it all adds up to an increasingly fragile reputation. Assistant commissioner Bob Quick's carelessness was dealt with effectively - resignations are good for killing stories. The G20 fallout is the most difficult, though, requiring a delicate comms balance. To maintain public confidence and trust, the Met must be seen to be 'firm' in policing protest and violence but 'fair' in achieving this objective. The task is to separate sensitive handling of heavy-handedness allegations (via the review ordered by Sir Paul Stephenson) from the overall outcome of the operation: public safety ensured.

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