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Leveson press restrictions a 'threat to democracy and accuracy'

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The breakdown of metropolitan police and media relations in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry has led to a proliferation of inaccurate and prejudicial news reports in recent years, according to a new study by a leading criminologist.

Dr Marianne Colbran from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) says the restrictions imposed on the national press since 2012 have been detrimental for the police and the media, as well as the public.

In a paper published in the British Journal of Criminology, Dr Colbran says that recommendations by the Filkin and Leveson Reports on the recording of all contact with the press may have swung the balance of power too far in favour of the police.  The police appear to be more in control of the flow of information to the press and public than ever before and social media is increasingly allowing them to bypass the traditional media.

Dr Colbran says: “The integrity of investigative reporting has been severely compromised and there are serious repercussions in terms of operational policing. The clampdown has led journalists to seek other sources which are usually online, not accountable, and often result in sensitive material being released into the public domain, prejudicing investigations.”

Journalists – unable to verify their sources with help from press officers in the Metropolitan Police service (MPS) – are increasingly publishing “speculative and inaccurate” reports, she claims.

Dr Colbran’s findings are based on a series of 35 interviews with senior Metropolitan Police, crime journalists and press officers from Scotland Yard, between 2012 and 2015.

Since 2012, a number of factors have led to the balance of power being skewed in favour of the Metropolitan Police: the rise of social media allowing police to control their content and communicate more directly with the public; a 24 hours news cycle; and staff cuts across the media has led to a greater dependence by journalists on police-produced press releases.

However, by the same token, the rise of “citizen journalism” and new technology has also allowed the public to monitor the police more closely and instantly upload incidents of police malpractice via smartphones.

In her paper, Dr Colbran describes the current relationship between the MPS and the national news media as “parlous”.

The Leveson Report recommendation that all police contact with the press should be recorded has “severely impacted” crime correspondents in the past five years, the study finds, with “serious implications for democracy”.

Dr Colbran adds: “The public are no longer being kept aware of policing concerns and journalists are only being given part of the story. This has led to inaccuracies because police press officers are worried about over stepping their brief and giving too much information to journalists. In the past, many abuses of police power or corruption were brought to the press’s attention by serving police officers but this channel has now been closed.”

The study finds that both sides believe the police have over-reacted. One police respondent quoted in the study says: “what was needed was a sticking plaster and instead they have put a bloody great cast on the problem”.

For more information

Dr Colbran can be contacted at m.p.colbran@lse.ac.uk  or +44 (0) 7919 228 633, or via Candy Gibson, LSE senior media relations officer, at c.gibson@lse.ac.uk.

Notes to editors

“Leveson five years on: the effect of the Leveson and Filkin reports on relations between the Metropolitan Police and the national news media” was published in the October edition of the British Journal of Criminology.

The relationship with the police and the press has been the subject of three major inquiries: Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) in 2011, and Elizabeth Filkin and Lord Leveson Reports in 2012.

Dr Marianne Colbran is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Mannheim Centre for Criminology, based at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and a co-director of the European Centre for Media and Communications at the University of Bucharest. 

Monday 31 October 2016