In the Media

Filkin report proposals could shield criminals and corrupt officers could shield criminals and corrupt officers | Duncan Campbell

PUBLISHED January 4, 2012

While some of Dame Elizabeth's recommendations about links between police and media are welcome, others spell danger

Much of what Dame Elizabeth Filkin has concluded is timely and to be welcomed. Yes, the Met in the past has favoured certain publications over others with access to stories and information.

Yes, some of the top brass got flattered by the attention paid them by the more powerful ends of the media and forgot that their first duty was to the London taxpayer and not to the big cheeses in the press.

Yes, we could all do with a greater flow of information from inside the Yard.

But some of the recommendations ? and the way in which they have been so cheerfully accepted by the police ? spell danger.

It is 40 years since the former Met commissioner, the late Sir Robert Mark, addressed a scandal at the Yard, not by closing down informal contact, but by encouraging it.

"Officers who act and speak in good faith may be assured of my support even if they make errors of judgment when deciding what information to disclose and what to withhold," he said.

While the new commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, has agreed that the Met had to confront past failings, he also seems to be heralding a relationship far removed from the one envisaged by Mark.

There will be "no more secret conversations" and "meetings will no longer be enhanced by hospitality and alcohol", he said at the press conference to launch Filkin's report ? The Ethical Issues Arising from the Relationship Between Police and the Media.

Attention has been paid to the warning that a drink with a hack should be the exception rather than the rule.

But this move seems to be based more on a belief that such a culture was inherently wrong rather than much hard evidence of ways in which such contact had been abused.

Selling and buying police information is already illegal. By telling officers that they must now make notes of any contact they have with members of the media, the Yard will be cutting down many perfectly responsible lines of communication, lessening the chances of crimes being detected through their airing in the media and shackling officers who want to act as whistleblowers on corrupt or lax colleagues.

Journalists covering politics need to talk to MPs without this being reported to their cabinet masters, just as cricket correspondents should be able to talk to players without the say-so of county chairmen. Erecting another roadblock for crime reporters ? with or without hipflask ? will serve neither public nor police.

As for the "flirty" method of extracting information from the police, one wonders how much of this is based on reality and how much is to do with old-fashioned chauvinist attitudes in both the media and the police.

Sylvia Jones, the former Daily Mirror crime correspondent, was the first woman to become the chairman of the Crime Reporters' Association.

She recalls the hostility she encountered from some rivals when she first covered the crime beat for the Mirror.

"It caused the most enormous offence," said Jones, now a documentary film-maker, when I spoke to her about crime reporting last year.

"They also spread rumours about me ? that I was sleeping with people to get information. The rumours go on to this day."

If the Filkin report does indeed lead to greater "transparency" ? that opaque word ? from the police, that's great. I'm sure that's what she hopes will happen.

But one fears that what the police will take from this is a wonderful excuse to keep the media even more firmly at arm's length and it will also scare away perfectly honest and diligent officers from ever being seen in public with a reporter. And that is bad news, in every sense of the word. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds