Friday, July 19th, 2013 - AIMediaComms
“…greater transparency about meetings and contacts should be considered not just as a future project but as an immediate need.”
Lord Justice Leveson

The investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World and the general culture and ethics of the British media, ‘The Leveson Inquiry’, concluded with the publication of the report by Lord Justice Leveson on 29th November 2012. Much of the debate since then has been over the need for a new independent press regulator, most significantly underpinned by statute to ‘protect the freedom of the press, to reassure the public and validate the new body’.

By mid-December, over two thousand publications were ready to show they took the Leveson recommendations seriously by signing up to tougher regulation that included, for example, the power to fine newspapers up to £1m or 1 per cent of turnover for breaching the new code of conduct. They were (are), however, less amenable to regulation by law.

Whilst the politicians and press try to find the middle ground on this, there is one equally important area of the Leveson Report that has come under less scrutiny; the relationship between the press and the police. It is generally accepted that this relationship has been symbiotic; they need each other.
Back in 2009, Deputy Chief Constable Andy Trotter, then Chair of The Association of Chief Police Officer’s Media Advisory Group said it was "committed to openness and accessibility…We believe that wherever possible, briefings should be on the record and attributable, with an officer, who is clearly identified, complying with the policy of the senior investigating officer, or whomsoever is in charge of the case.” He stated that police forces used the media to inform members of the public about their work and to seek help from them with the investigation of crime.

This point of view was upheld some years before that by Sir John Stevens, Metropolitan Police Commissioner from 2000 to 2005, who in a Special Notice sent to all members of the Met (and published on www.met.police.uk) set out his plans for a more proactive relationship with the media and general public, concluding that a cautious approach can breed suspicion and contempt, while an open approach will breed confidence and respect.

What Leveson revealed, however, is that the closeness of the relationship has led to practices that are damaging to both parties, leaving their reputation on the wane. The challenge for police then is to build trust, to recreate a healthy symbiotic relationship with the press. To do so requires that there is transparency, consistency and accuracy in all communications.

Leveson has recommended that ‘off-the-record briefings’ should be discontinued, replaced by ‘non-reportable briefings’ to cover a background briefing which is not to be reported. ‘Off-the-record’ briefings have the perception that journalists were given information in exchange for hospitality or other tangible benefits. A non-reportable briefing, on the other hand, is an interaction between police and the press that is on the record, an exchange that is written down internally for future scrutiny, but the contents of the briefing are not for publication. Leveson also refers to open and embargoed (in time) briefings.

Leveson also states that it should be mandatory for ACPO rank officers to record all of their contact with the media, and for that record to be available publicly for transparency and audit purposes. This record need be no more than a very brief note to the effect that a conversation has taken place and the subject matter of that conversation. He advised that more detailed notes should be retained where the discussion involves a more significant operational or organisational matter.

Recording interactions between press officers and journalists is common place within Police Media Units. Anne Campbell, who was Director of Communications at Suffolk and Norfolk Constabularies when giving evidence at the Inquiry, stated that she had recently introduced changes in the way media contacts are recorded and tracked by installing a software system and there is now work in progress to ensure that everyone within the Constabulary is aware of the importance of keeping records of contact, not just within the news team but everyone who has any contact. This system, Spotlight, has been working successfully in Norfolk for a number of years.”

In other parts of her testimony she states “the information management system Spotlight …records and tracks all enquiries from the media and acts as a database of all media and partner contacts and information prepared for either reactive or proactive media handling. News officers havetheir personal log-ins to access the system and their use of the system is automatically recorded and generated in reports if required.”

When asked whether her staff ever gave ‘off-the-record’ briefings to journalists, Cambell responded “I am not comfortable with the term ’off-the record’. Circumstantial information and facts would be ’on the record’. Further information that may help the understanding of the journalist involved may be given on the basis of ’guidance’ and would be made clear it was ’not for publication’. This information would also be recorded on our Spotlight system so would be available if there were any future queries around the status of the information of that case, incident or event.”

Simon Ash, Chief Constable at Suffolk Constabulary, in his evidence to the Inquiry referred to the constabulary’s use of media relations management systems that “keeps records of contacts with journalists and other individuals of note, for example local politicians and MPs, to enable the professional management of corporate communications... (and) enable us to bring more rigour to this area of our business.”

Thus, there exists software that can claim to be ‘Leveson compliant’. Such software will enable ACPO ranked officers and the Press team to:
• Record and retain a history of all interactions and correspondence with each journalist (both reactive and proactive stakeholder).
• Prepare and record briefing statements and lines to take that are instantly recognisable as either ‘open’, ‘non-reportable’ or ‘embargoed’.
• Quickly log and categorise enquiries, notify colleagues of important calls and respond efficiently and consistently.
• Log, track and evaluate interview bids in a seamless manner, providing clear information on specific meetings, whether related to a bigger issue or as a one-off, stand-alone activity.
All the information can be searched for easy retrieval and access.

Software such as this will deliver the transparency, consistency and auditability that Leveson craves. Not only in matters relating to the Police and the Press however. For Leveson was also critical of the relationship between the press and politicians. He suggests that “the evidence clearly demonstrates that over the last 30-35 years and probably much longer, the political parties of UK national Government and of UK official Opposition, have had or developed too close a relationship with the press in a way which has not been in the public interest.”

Leveson suggests that Party Leaders, Ministers and Front Bench Opposition spokesmen should consider recording and publishing, on a regular basis, information regarding the frequency of general interactions (including correspondence, phone, text and email) and details of all meetings with media proprietors, newspaper editors or senior executives. He concludes that “greater transparency about meetings and contacts should be considered not just as a future project but as an immediate need”.

The key attributes of the software listed above will clearly help ministers, government departments, indeed all public bodies become ‘Leveson compliant’.

Generally, the utilisation of software within the Corporate Communications function that facilitates the recording of media and other stakeholder interactions will create a searchable, corporate memory of ‘who met who’, ‘who said what to who’, and ‘who sent what to who’.

Furthermore, such software will ensure that key spokespeople have access to the appropriate lines to take and briefing statements on any issue affecting their organisation, and that they are ready to react consistently to enquiries from any stakeholder group, ensuring they remain the trusted source of information.

Public sector organisations clearly need the right systems in place to demonstrate transparency, consistency and accuracy in all their stakeholder engagements. Otherwise they face the wrath of Leveson, who demanded processes for “…greater transparency about meetings and contacts…not just as a future project but as an immediate need.”

Charlie O’Rourke
Managing Director of AIMediaComms, Author of Media Relations Management Software

Transforming your media and stakeholder interactions.

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AIMediaComms


AIMediaComms is Europe’s leading provider of software, transforming organisations stakeholder engagements and media interactions into a more efficient, effective and manageable operation.

Our software, Vuelio, helps organisations protect and enhance their reputation by ensuring accurate, consistent and timely communications with all stakeholders. Vuelio facilitates joined-up communications, ensuring an organisation speaks with one voice, empowering it to establish more effective relationships with the media and other stakeholder groups.
We trace our roots back to 1995 when we delivered an innovative press office management system to the Metropolitan Police in London that is still in use today. Since then, we have built a commendable reputation for creating software for the proactive management of stakeholder campaigns and driving operational efficiencies in corporate communications departments throughout the public and private sectors.

Built upon the great success of Newsflash and Solcara Spotlight, Vuelio provides an extended feature set for enterprise stakeholder engagement teams.

We hold the international standard for Quality Management (ISO9001) and Information Security (ISO27001).
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