No longer adversaries, but respectful seekers of truth
June 21, 2002
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Other aspects of reform included training courses for local Policemen in the United Kingdom and a period of attachment in Guyana by two officers of the London Metropolitan Police. One of the Met’s officers, Steve Dennis, was present at yesterday’s forum as was British High Commissioner Mr Edward Glover. Participants included representatives of both print and electronic media as well as some of the more controversial television Talk Show hosts.
For the greater part of two hours, there were candid exchanges of views by media practitioners and the Police personnel. Predictably, the Police appealed for the understanding of the media operatives at the scenes of crimes and spelt out why they could not always disclose to the press all the necessary information in the early stages of any investigation. And just as predictably, the media representatives lamented the frustration they endure when they seek the assistance of the Police in eliciting details or confirming reports of certain high profile criminal incidents. They noted that at weekends, in particular, it is sometimes impossible to raise any Police personnel for a comment or for information about any illegal happening. As a result, some media houses are often forced to carry only what they can glean from eyewitness accounts.
To further stimulate discussion, a video cassette, which focused on the working relationship between the British Police and the media at two important events, was shown. One was the Notting Hill Carnival and the other was a train disaster. In both events, there were comments by representatives of the British law-enforcers on their perceptions of the media, and vice versa. While the British Police seemed convinced that the press persons were always on the look-out for negative incidents or bad tidings, the spokespersons for the media were at pains to counter this view insisting that they were only trying to do their jobs.
We believe that this outlook of trying to perform one’s job in as professional a manner as possible is at the heart of the conflict of Police-press relations. It is not written anywhere that Police personnel and media practitioners have to see each other as adversaries in a desperate battle of wills. They are both professional groups with clearly stated objectives. The law-enforcers have the job of maintaining order and of rooting out those felons who transgress the laws of the land and endanger the lives of other persons. The media functionaries have a duty to the public of reporting about crimes and the behaviour of criminals, and if possible, what progress the Police are making in solving cases and bringing law-breakers to justice.
Police personnel and journalists must extend to each other a level of respect based on the assumption that each individual will conduct him/herself in a professional manner at all times. We believe that there will be occasions when the journalist would try using wiles or guile to obtain specific bits of information from the cops, who would be well advised not to let their guard down. While an adversarial relationship between press and Police could have negative or destructive consequences, a certain level of tension between the two groups would be healthy and would serve to keep each professional mentally alert and keen. Yesterday’s forum could well be the desired new beginning of improved relations between the Police Force and the local media.