Thursday, November 12, 2009

Local Paper Won't Play Ball With Police's Managed News Service

"It's a national form and the purpose of it is to ensure that the material they gather is used for the right purpose, and not used for some later story which is totally unrelated." So says a spokesman from Essex Constabulary as he describes an indemnity form used by the force which local media organisations were asked to sign before being giving access to a police photocall at a recently-discovered huge cannabis factory.

Although most media organisations signed the form, the Epping Forest Guardian declined to do so and was therefore barred from the photocall. Among other things, the indemnity form asked media companies to guarantee that material would not be "archived" for future use and would be used only in connection with the immediate "purpose" of the photocall. It also asked them to give an undertaking that no material would be used in a way that was "detrimental" to the Essex Constabulary.

Local editor Anthony Longden responds: "Our policy on indemnity forms is certainly nothing new - we don't sign them because they make what we consider to be unreasonable demands, and we prefer to protect our independence and our journalistic material."

The paper's refusal to sign resulted in it being initially denied access to the location , a fact that a police spokesman commented on: "I am aware that some have refused to sign it but they have missed out on a major opportunity. For this particular newspaper, it was probably their main story for this week's edition."
The paper subsequently found out the location of the factory and has run several stories on the events there.

The police's attempt to manage this piece of news is regrettable and reflects an unhealthy trend towards curbing freedom of the press. It is unreasonable in a free society that the state/police should be allowed to determine the "purpose" of a news story or proscribe how it should be used in the future.

It's hard enough running a local newspaper these days. The Guardian are therefore to be especially commended for refusing to go along with this attempt by the police to manage the news. Essex police should stop using these indemnity forms and stop trying to control the media in this way.

I appreciate that Thomas Jefferson is not one often quoted this side of the Atlantic. On this matter, however, he has much to to say:

"I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it."


"Information is the currency of democracy."

photo r0bz

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