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Jack Waterford thunders at ACT Policing media management

By johnboy - 21 March 2006 24

The Canberra Times is running a rare and welcome tirade by Jack Waterford against the restrictive media relations empire of ACT Policing.

Australian Federal Police serving the ACT are now operating under such complete media management arrangements that the public has almost no information about what the police are doing, how efficiently and effectively they are doing it, and is not given even the most basic information about crime and order in the community.

The ability of ACT Policing to hide in the shadows has worried me for some time too.

What’s Your opinion?

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24 Responses to
Jack Waterford thunders at ACT Policing media management
Indi 8:59 pm 21 Mar 06

TAD – and you’d would be working in the employ of the AFP?

TAD 8:19 pm 21 Mar 06


TAD 7:50 pm 21 Mar 06

This is not an ACT only issue. In 2004 there was a submission from the Australian Press Council to the QLD Crime and Misconduct Commission after the police in that state changed their police radio system to a digitally encypted one (such as is used in Canberra). Thé new radio sytem meant that the press could no longer monitor the radio and so were reliant on the police media to tell them about crime. (very much as we do here). Thé submission was that the press should have access to the new radio system.

Although unsuccessful in their submission there are some very good points made within in that are very relevant in this discussion :
– By scrutinising police activity the media provide the police with an incentive to behave with integrity and commitment.
– Relying on police media units facilitates the manipulation of the media for the purposes of propaganda.
– Media access to police radio is an important channel for the flow of information to the public regarding crime, policing and other events potentially affecting the public interest. As such, police radio provides a unique window through which the public can scrutinize police activity, thereby making a significant contribution to accountability.
– Police may fail to pass information on to the media in order to camouflage inefficiency, to prevent criticism of their operational practices, or for other invalid reasons.
– There is a risk that the information which ultimately reaches the media via the media liaison office gives a partial and therefore skewed or misleading impression of situation.
– The monitoring of police radio scanners is an important mechanism by which journalists can obtain information which has not been pre-digested and packaged.

Locally there are a couple of extra factors :

Firstly, the ACT Police operates on a purchase agreement with the ACT Government whereby the performance of the AFP is judged upon various things such as crime stats, attendance times, prosecutions etc. Another indicator is “the fear of crime” which is measured in satisfaction surveys of members of the public.

The second is that the Canberra Times absolutely hate the police and will not miss an opportunity to criticize it. This includes beating up reports of crime that are expected in a city this size and reporting it as a crime out of control. (You may remember a couple of Civic assaults that were reported as “rampaging gangs” etc).

Add these two factors together and you get a police force afraid to release details of crime because it would negatively affect the “fear of crime” amongst the community particularly because the Canberra Times will put their slant on it and beat it up if possible.

So what you get are AFP media releases with scant details ONLY if the AFP needs the public’s help with an investigation and so they end up being postage stamped size news stories buried deep in the paper. (Such as the recent spate of rapes in the first couple of media releases). These media releases serve no purpose and do not help the police solve the crimes or the public to be informed.

The only other media releases you get are the PR positive stories such as the recent fabulous release of the “Dognapped pooch returned to owner”

Have a quick look at the AFP Media release site and you would be hard pressed to find a release that wasn’t “Help needed” or positive PR “We arrested somebody”.

As for the public’s “Right to know”, it does not exist.

seepi 6:58 pm 21 Mar 06

If the police get any more invisible in Canberra they will disappear and noone will even notice.

DVD 6:56 pm 21 Mar 06

The CT will smear shit on ACT Policing at any given opportunity, they have for the last 30 years and will for the next 30 years this is another example of that.

Look at the letters they print from people with nothing better to do than write in about how they saw a Police van park in a no stopping zone and 3 coppers get out and walk around the Lyneham shops ??

I wonder if the loser who wrote in had the common sense to work out that although there was no armed robbery in progress perhaps the cops were being pro-active and getting out and walking around the shops and talking to people face to face instead of just drving around.

Funny how you will never, ever see a letter in the CT from someone praising ACT Policing. I have no doubt that any letters the CT receive containing a positive word about the AFP gets filed immediately in the Classified Waste bin.

The media are a pack of dogs they will generate whatever news they can to sell papers and get ratings, and on a slow news day when they have nothing else to do they put shit on the coppers. Poor form.

Ralph 4:36 pm 21 Mar 06

Crime stats, by street and by suburb, which were previously available on the neighbourhood watch site, have recently disappeared as well….

Swaggie 4:10 pm 21 Mar 06

I know you did the last CPO JB and what a bland read it was too (not your fault) but if Audrey could be persuaded to answer in her own words…or is that hoping for too much. Just a thought anyway.

DT 4:00 pm 21 Mar 06

Special G – it’s more than a one-off. This has been an ongoing issue for some time.

The problem, in my opinion, is an entrenched culture that sees no value in the media – or sees the media as an enemy.

In my experience, and with some justification, cops see their job as catching bad guys, not handling media enquiries. Unfortunately, this sometimes leads to problems and turns the media against you. It’s the same with firies and, as I saw it, was a big part of the failure to give adequate warnings to the public before the 2003 bushfires – they saw their job as fighting fires, not talking to journalists.

It needs a huge culture shift, led from the very top. Sure, operational considerations should take precedence, but good media relations are important too.

Kerces 3:42 pm 21 Mar 06

Heavs, Waterford has just been given the dubious promotion of editor-at-large. As part of this (since this is what their reader surveys told them people wanted) he will continue to write the weekday editorials but will also have more bylined pieces. He is however still a full-time employee of the CT, unlike Crispin Hull and Ian Warden.

Heavs 2:51 pm 21 Mar 06

Johnboy – I’m sure I remember reading something in the CT a few weeks back about Waterford actually getting a regular op.ed writing gig in the paper.

It’s a bit of a side note from the police media spin issue I know but I reckon it’s good to read a local opinion piece from someone else than that poor Akerboltsen clone, Angela Shanahan.

johnboy 2:46 pm 21 Mar 06

We did the last CPO, John Davies.

While that came out pretty well, I wouldn’t care to repeat the negotiations with police media.

Swaggie 2:36 pm 21 Mar 06

Having just read the paper It looks like Corbell was doing all the talking to the Press on this, How about getting top cop Audrey up for one of Kerces’ email inetrviews,

Special G 2:36 pm 21 Mar 06

Jack’s just upset because someone said no. SO he writes an article about how he wasn’t given information – must be a slow news day.

Ari 2:22 pm 21 Mar 06

The AFP kept quiet about some of the Inner North rapes for a long, long time.

And it was only after they went public with the details that a man was charged.

bonfire 2:08 pm 21 Mar 06

i guess the ability of the media to have questions answered falls under the obligations of the police to be accountable to the public.

media units always spin. thats what they do.

i dont think people have unrealistic expectations about police capability – the very nature of 99% of police work is reactive.

but the afp have always concerned me. im unconvinced that david eastman killed commissioner winchester. i dont liek the way they routinely blame speed for accidents when the act has the best designed road system in oz. i dont lik the fact that so much of their policing is done from the front seat of a divvy van. i dont like the fact that so few policing resources exist in canberras suburbs.

i realise many of these issues are govt and money related, but basic honesty and working with media wouldnt go astray.

and to the cops out there – this isnt a bash.

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