Newspaper ill-advised to let police post their own online story

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March 15, 2014 by newsgetting

A newspaper that allowed its local police force to publish an article directly on to its website should be wary of celebrating the initiative.
Torbay police posted a “story” on the site of the Torquay Herald Express, headlined
“Who is this man?” over a picture of the said gentleman in a library.
It goes on to state: “The man stole a canvas bag that had been left unattended on the floor while the victim was distracted.”
Clearly, the police don’t know much about media law. I imagine any student taking a National Council for the Training of Journalists‘ course would point out that this is an allegation, not a fact.
There isn’t any proof that the man in the picture is guilty of anything beyond being a “suspect.”
HoldTheFrontPage reports that the police and the newspaper have hailed this as an “historic moment” and The force was so pleased with itself it tweeted: “We have just published our own story directly to @TQHeraldExpress website with a picture. Amazing.”
Amazing indeed. And the Herald Express editor, Jim Parker, was pleased too, extolling the move as a way of developing and cementing the paper’s good relationship with the police.
Surely, however, if we weigh this in the balance, it’s much better for the police than it is for the newspaper. It allows the police, as this example illustrates, to accuse someone of a crime in advance of arrest, charge and trial.
This unprecedented piece of plod self-publishing, bypassing any journalistic checks, is evidently seen as “a significant step towards the vision of the paper’s parent company, Local World, to see more content generated directly by third party contributors.”
Local World’s chief executive David Montgomery has said that the main role of journalists in future will be to assemble user-generated copy in “attractive formats.”
I can see some virtue in the women’s institute posting about their latest jam-making exploits or the scout troop reporting on its takings at the annual fete. And it could prove a boon for the myriad of sports teams anxious to see their players’ names and faces up in lights.
But the the police are different. It may be fair enough to post stories on road detours and missing dogs and warnings about weather conditions. But this story was ill-advised on so many levels – libel and contempt (quite apart from leaden copy and bad picture-cropping).
Really, I think the Herald Express and Local World need to think more deeply about allowing the police free access to their websites.

By Roy Greenslade (The Guardian)


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