Metropolitan police commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe said today that the relationship between Scotland Yard and the media 'needed to change'Credit: Alberto OG on Flickr. Some rights reserved
Metropolitan police officers should make a record of any contact with the media and the records should be regularly monitored by senior officers, an independent report recommended today.
The report, commissioned by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) in the wake of the phone hacking scandal and compiled by former parliamentary standards commissioner Dame Elizabeth Filkin, examined the relationship between the force and the media.
The Met police was heavily criticised over its relationship with News International, publisher of the now-defunct News of the World, following revelations about the extent of phone hacking and the failure of the police to conduct a proper investigation.
Filkin said in her report today that the relationship between the MPS and the press included "sufficient unregulated or unethical contact that is both hidden from scrutiny and harmful to the public and the MPS to cause serious concern".
She added that it was "clear both from what appears in the media, and from what I have been told, that there is contact - which is neither recorded nor permitted - between the media and police officers and staff, at all levels".
There was concern among journalists in the wake of the hacking scandal that the MPS would force officers to seek permission from a senior officer before any contact with the press, which it was feared would prevent whistleblowers revealing unethical practices.
Filkin stopped short of suggesting that officers be restricted from contact with the media, recommending instead that contact should be "permissible but not unconditional".
The key condition is that officers are required to make a record of all contact with the press and that their records should be randomly and regularly audited by senior officers.
"I recommend that all police officers and staff who provide information to the media should make a brief personal record of the information they provide," Filkin said.
"This record should be available if required by a line manager. Some of these records will be audited on a random basis. Wherever possible, published information should be attributed to the person giving it or more generally to the MPS."
The former parliamentary standards commissioner said that it was "essential" that the MPS make "more, not less contact" with the media and that "police officers and staff ought to see extensive and open contact with the public, sometimes through the media, as a part of their job".
"Providing it is open and recorded", she added.
The reason the MPS had not "embedded the principles of open and transparent contact with the media" was due to a "lack of clear guidance which places media relationships in the proper context of ethical business practices", Filkin concluded.
She added that it was "impossible for an organisation to control every contact with the media" and that "any proposed solution will rely on police officers and police staff 'living' a set of core principles and making judgements about their application".
Filkin also criticised the media industry, listing ten "tactics used by some in the media" and warning officers to "watch out".
Among the suspect tactics listed were "alcohol", "late night carousing" and "long sessions", as well as "flirting", offering money, applying pressure over deadlines and checking the spelling in an attempt to get confirmation of a guessed name.
Filkin met 137 people to collect evidence for her report, including members of the MPS, Metropolitan Police Authority, HMIC, IPCC, journalists, and newspaper editors.
She made a total of seven recommendations based on her findings.
Met police commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe said that the report had been commissioned by the force "in acknowledgement of the fact that our relationship with the media needed to change".
"We have already started to adjust our relationship with the media, and moving forward we will need to ensure that we are more open and transparent, whilst balancing this with the need to retain confidentiality and respect the privacy of those who come into contact with the police.
"We need to show leadership from the top to implement new ways of working. We need to be open about the contact we have with the media. If a member of staff is not happy to be open about contact, then clearly it shouldn't happen. The only defence is that of a whistleblower."
He added that there should be "no more secret conversations" and "no more improper contact - that which is of selfish not public interest", and said meetings between officers and members of the press "will no longer be enhanced by hospitality and alcohol".
Andy Trotter, media advisor to the Association of Chief Police Officers and chief constable of the British Transport Police, made a similar call in November for officers record all contact with journalists.
He told Journalism.co.uk that officers needed to ensure they were "absolutely transparent" about all interactions with the press.
"I think we need to be above board and be seen to be above board, so when police officers talk to journalists my advice has been to make sure there's a record, take a date, time and place, who's there with you, have you got a press officer with you, what is it about, what's the outcome and making sure there's a register, particularly if there's any hospitality involved. So that everyone can see exactly what we're doing and who we're speaking to."