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Newsnight Report on relationship between Media and Police 05 Jan 2011

Original Source: BBC NEWS NIGHT: 05 JANUARY 2010

With thanks to jjp000 for transcript


This report relates to the Jo Yeates investigation in particular but there are mentions of other cases including Raoul Moat and Madeleine McCann.


KIRSTY WARK Now Avon and Somerset Police today took the extraordinary step of banning a national broadcaster from a press conference about the Joanna Yeates murder investigation.  They justified the ITV ban saying its News at Ten report last night was, 'naive, unfair and irresponsible'.  They have now lifted the ban but threatened to repeat it if, they say, reporters hamper their investigation.  So what has led to this breakdown of trust between police and media'  Here's Matt Prodger.

MATT PRODGER From Madeleine McCann to Raoul Moat.  From Ian Huntley to the Ipswich murders we know so well the faces of crime in the information age.

SHORT TRACK OVER PICTURES Tonight armed police.....

MATT PRODGER 24/7 news has brought immediacy, intimacy and stretched the relationship between media and police to breaking point.  And so it is with the case of Jo Yeates, the latest, high-profile murder investigation and a spat between Avon and Somerset Police and ITV news.  The cause of it was a report broadcast last night critical of the police for failing, after two and a half weeks, to find the killer.

POLICE OFFICER Since Monday we have also taken...

MATT PRODGER In response the police barred ITV news journalists from this press conference earlier today.  Then lodged a complaint with the broadcast regulator Ofcom for as the police put it, 'unfair, naive and irresponsible reporting'.  They said ITV's coverage would, 'hamper the investigation'.  ITV said the police action was counter productive.

DAVID MANNION (ITV) He should not, however, institute a ban on a legitimate news organisation from attending a press conference.  And I might add some people might find that a bit irresponsible given that the press conference was held to get maximum publicity for the fact that one of Jo's socks had gone missing.  Now we go out to millions of people who might not have seen that because of this summary ban on our cameras and our reporter.

MATT PRODGER There've already been media tensions.  Last week media scrutiny of Jo Yeates' landlord, Christopher Jefferies prompted the Attorney General to warn newspaper editors they risked prejudicing any future trial.  Mr Jefferies was released by police.  His only offences thus far apparently being eccentricity and a love of poetry.

The disappearance of Madeleine McCann demonstrated the perils of massive media coverage when confronted with a leaky police investigation and a lack of leads.  Overheated speculation led to British newspapers paying libel damages to ten people so far, two of them Madeleine's parents.

But it was the thoroughly modern death of Raoul Moat, live on TV after a media manhunt that seemed to some a step too far.  One police chief has also complained that commanding officers on high profile cases are now spending up to half their time dealing with the media.  In the final hours of Raoul Moat's life police frustration with photographers was clearly evident.

The killer of Jo Yeates remains at large tonight and a needy embrace still binds journalists and detectives.  One seeks news,  the other information, and both of them need leads.

KIRSTY WARK Matt Prodger.  Well Ian Blair, the  former Metropolitan Police Commisioner is with us again and we are also joined by Stuart Purvis who was chief executive of ITN until 2003 and is currently a professor of television journalism at the University, City University in London.  Stuart Purvis first of all you saw that report last night.  In your view was there anything that was 'naive, unfair or irresponsible''

STUART PURVIS Well as I understand it the dispute between ITV news and the Avon and Somerset Police very much centres on was the police force given a chance to comment on the criticisms that were given actually in that report by former policemen as much as they were by ITV journalists.  So that's a classic case of taking it to Ofcom, where I've actually worked until quite recently handling these sorts of complaints.  That I think is the right thing for the police to have done.  Clearly they are under enormous stress and strain.  Its a high profile murder case.  If they think they have been treated unfairly they should take it to the regulator.  What I don't think they should do is the next step they took.

KIRSTY WARK Banning them...

STUART PURVIS Banning from them.  And I have to say I don't think they made the situation any better when to try to get themselves out of a hole they'd got themselves into they talked about this threat to do it again if the media hampered their investigation as if a criticism whether that was from other former policemen or from journalists was hampering their investigation.

KIRSTY WARK It seems, Ian Blair, that there is just simply a frustration and annoyance on the police side that they were being criticised in the report last night.  Is that any justification do you think for banning media from a press conference'

IAN BLAIR I don't normally comment on ongoing investigations but in this case I would suggest that banning a journalist is not necessarily the right approach.  But I think there's something much more important behind all of this which is that the rhythm of 24 hour journalism in the competitive market place that currently exists and the rhythm of a criminal investigation are extremely different.  And the demand for more information and more information and more information is a really difficult position for the police when they don't want to give it be... sometimes because they don't know it and secondly because they don't want to give it away in the first place.

KIRSTY WARK Is that a legitimate criticism'

STUART PURVIS Yeah.  I think first of all we had the old media.  They had 24/7 news channels.  I think 24/7 news online has been the really big step forward because its enabled newspaper journalists to break stories ahead of the morning publication and therefore they're in the exclusives game absolutely 24 hours a day which they didn't used to be.  So there is much more pressure going on out there.

KIRSTY WARK And do you think either actually journalists, new journalists and new police are actually equipped to deal with the stresses and strains of that constant demand, you know, for information ' legitimate demands for information'

STUART PURVIS Well I think the police have got used to 24/7 in terms of news.  Perhaps what they haven't got use to is 24/7 comment.  I think that's been the big change in recent years.  I mean when I look tonight at the Avon and Somerset Police statement on Facebook and I thought, 'My God, you know, te..., five years ago would you have had a police force issuing a statement on a social network''  Nothing wrong with that but its a sign of the times and there are people commenting on that statement tonight who have no idea that there is a contempt of court or contempt process that could be taken against them.  So these are just remarkable times and I... one can understand why the police are having trouble coping with it.

The, the, the, in the public interest is different from what the public actually are interested in.

IAN BLAIR Oh you've always been that case. (???)  I think there's a couple of things that the police need to do.  One is, I think, to separate the man or the woman in charge of the investigation from being the spokesman.  That certainly is what the Met has done for years and years and years and left a spokesman to deal with the press and let the officer in charge carry on.  But it also requires some responsibility from the press. I mean in the aftermath of the 21/7 bombings I remember having to get hold of the editor of Sky to get a journalist off the air because she was explaining what the police were doing in terms of going into the stronghold where the terrorists were eventually found.  I mean there are things that we are now in a position that the Moat case shows that actually you can see live police operations on television and that does produce perhaps a requirement for a new code somewhere (some way') about what can and cannot be done.

KIRSTY WARK I mean, the thing is, of course, that the police and media need each other desperately.  I mean the police need the media for the information to get out.  But do you think there has to be a kind of new training scheme, a new code of the way that actually they interact with each other'

STUART PURVIS There are quite a few codes around already and not everyone knows what code they are under at any one time.


KIRSTY WARK Is that a problem them'


STUART PURVIS I think there is potenti...  I mean there is...  Quite obviously there are people who are publishing by actually putting their material out there who are actually not aware that they are subject to any codes or that there might be legal action taken against them.  And you can understand how this has come about.  I wrote a piece a few years ago saying anybody can now be a journalist and the truth is anybody can be a journalist depending on how you define a journalist.


IAN BLAIR But in a sense editors need to be noticing when you get this combination, if you like, of the ideal victim and I'm afraid that's where Jo Yeates fits with Madeleine McCann, and the apparently eccentric suspect.  Those two things together produce a real circumstance in which the liberty of the suspect begins to become to be very endangered.

KIRSTY WARK Just briefly on regulation.  Do you believe that regulation is the way to deal with it'


IAN BLAIR No, I don't.  If we could regulate the press we would be in a different world and I don't think that's going to happen either on your show or on anybody elses.

KIRSTY WARK Thank you both very much indeed.


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