Dumb Cops of the Year

If it’s true that Avon and Somerset police excluded ITV News from its Joanna Yeates inquiry briefing today in response to criticisms on last night’s News at Ten, then the Dumb Cop of the Year award is sorted with only days of 2011 gone.

It is so obviously unacceptable for a public service such as the police to exclude representatives of a public service broadcaster that a demeaning apology cannot be far behind.

It’s the sort of crass news management I associate with the Nixon presidency in the 1970s, and the sort of behaviour we might expect from a spoiled and sulking schoolgirl.

Not, it should be said, that the general business of access to briefings, press conferences and interviews is remotely transparent, or managed in the interests of news consumers. Heavy-hitting interviewers such as Lynn Barber and Simon Hattenstone are used to being blacklisted by movie stars and movie studios, and PR agencies always have journalists they deal with and journalists they don’t.

To take a really big example of selection and exclusion in news delivery, the BBC and Sky are probably still cross that Prince William and Kate Middleton gave their engagement interview to ITV’s Tom Bradby, a reporter they apparently find sympathetic. Ideally, picking which reporter does which job is the editor’s job.

The police, with their often generously staffed PR departments, are not immune to the selection impulse, but in my experience it is normally possible for a reputable reporter, or one working for a reputable organisation, to gain access to police press conferences. Deliberate filtering on the grounds that you have a record of criticising the police is, I think, as unusual as it is indefensible.

The rules are different, of course, for other useful forms of access such as one-to-one interviews, off-the-record briefings and tip-offs. These depend on trust between officers and reporters, the kind of relationship that journalists always need to be be wary of.

Due process, prejudice and the press

Brian Cathcart
England’s contempt of court laws have long been toothless, but the Internet and the smartphone have made it clear they are not fit for purpose, as demonstrated in the current “monstering” of murder suspect Chris Jefferies, says Brian Cathcart