The media plays an important role in disseminating information to the public, and the Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Services (NTPFES) policy is to provide timely assistance to the media and to also provide the public with information that supports the mission statement of the NTPFES in: “Work together to reduce crime and protect the community from fires, other emergencies and disasters.”
For the media to report accurately it is necessary for police, fire and emergency service personnel to assist them by providing appropriate facts. Indeed, the media can give valuable assistance to the NTPFES.
When police, fire and emergency service personnel deal with the media there is, however, a degree of risk that outcomes might be unforeseen and undesirable. Therefore the NTPFES undertakes to support fully any officer acting within the guidelines of this policy.
This paper outlines the overall policy of media communications for the NTPFES. The NTPFES Media Unit is structured to assist all members in their communication and liaison with the public, via the media.
For the community to have confidence in the service and accountability of its police force and fire and emergency services, members must have a positive relationship with the media, based on honesty, mutual cooperation and openness. In return, the community and the NTPFES have the right to expect media coverage of police activities is fair, accurate and balanced.
This policy acknowledges the right of the media to report and the right of the public to be informed of NTPFES issues and activities.
Guidelines to assist members in detailing with specific situations or circumstances are contained within Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
The Director of Media and Corporate Communications (DMCC) is responsible for overall management of operational and corporate media communications within the NTPFES. This person is the Officer in Charge of the Media Unit and directs the Service’s internal and external communications.
A pivotal role of the DMCC is to attend to the Commissioner’s and Deputy Commissioner’s media affairs, policy and executive level issues, and is responsible for managing corporate media affairs which have relevance to the whole of NTPFES.
The Manager of Media and Corporate Communication (MMCC) is responsible for ongoing operational media contact and is assisted by Media Liaison Officers (MLO) within the Media Unit.
The NTPFES Media Unit is responsible for releasing information to media representatives, unless otherwise stated in this policy.
The NTPFES Media Unit operates from approximately 7 am to 5 pm from Monday to Friday. After hours, the Unit’s staff members involved in media liaison are rostered on-call on for the purposes of emergencies and major incidents to ensure appropriate information on unfolding incidents is available to the community via the media. The on-call media officer can be contacted directly or through the on-duty Watch Commander and will attend police, fire or emergency service situations dependant on urgency and importance.
All members of the NTPFES may talk to the media, subject to constraints detailed herein. It is positive for the image of the organisation that members are accessible and willing to engage in contact, albeit with Media Unit backup and support as detailed herein.
While members can be given delegated responsibility in conducting media liaison, such delegation carries with it an ongoing responsibility to act in the best interests of the organisation. You may comment on or disclose information to the media where the matters are:
- under your direct operational control; and
- cleared and authorised by the appropriate commander, investigator or supervisor.
For matters that have a wider impact, you must first seek approval from the appropriate person in your line of command and notify the Media Unit.
Unless there is specific approval by the Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner, no member shall divulge to the media any findings or determinations in relation to internal inquiries, reviews or investigations, irrespective as to whether such processes are ongoing or considered concluded.
At all times, you must be impartial when dealing with the media. In your dealings with the media, whether written or oral, you must advise the Media Unit (before the event) of details of the subject, the reason for coverage and issues to be covered. Should you have a written release, a copy must be supplied to the Media Unit for perusal and approval.
Relevant to the above, there may be times that make it impossible or impractical to contact the Media Unit. In such circumstances, the member should clear his/her media intentions with their appropriate supervisor. Should the member not be in a position to do so, and media contact is considered important and appropriate, then such contact should be conducted within the spirit of this policy and notification of such media contact be given to the Media Unit at the next possible opportunity.
Members should be aware that the involvement of the Media Unit is to encourage mutually beneficial outcomes for both NTPFES members and media organisations and their representatives. Moreover, it is a process to ensure continuity of communication, consistency in corporate exposure and maintenance of legal, ethical or cultural requirements.
It is most important that the media be directed to the NTPFES member appointed as the media spokesperson for an operation, incident or project and that, unless unavoidable, this person be the sole spokesperson through to completion of the task irrespective of length of time.
Media staff can assist and advise you in provision of information or gaining public support for police, fire or emergency service investigations.
Restrictions on releasing information
Except as specifically stated in this policy, only the Commissioner and members of the Executive can comment on policy and procedures and any other matters that have broad organisational implications (for example, the use of surveillance cameras; the wearing, carrying or use of firearms, defensive spray, batons and similar equipment; speculation or discussion about crime trends and patterns).
On other matters such as provision of operational statistics (e.g. RBTs, traffic figures, road toll), comment can be made by relevant command at local, regional and Territory levels as follows:
- Local area: Officer in Charge
- Regional area of responsibility: Commander
- Territory-wide: Assistant Commissioner or above
The Media Unit should be advised before media contact unless there are extenuating circumstances that do not permit this. In such cases, members are advised to follow procedure detailed under separate heading in this policy.
Generally, media requests of a sensitive nature should be referred to the Media Unit.
Matters of media interest
When a matter develops and is of potential or actual media interest, NTPFES media staff members are to be informed as soon as possible. Watch Commanders or Supervisors in Darwin, Central and Southern Region or Divisional Superintendents who become aware of such a matter are to advise the on-duty Media Unit officer, or contact either the DMCC or the MCC.
NTPFES policy does not, for reasons of operational safety, normally permit media representatives to accompany foot or mobile patrols, observe proceedings in non-public areas of NTPFES buildings, or generally accompany police as they go about their duties. If, however, you identify a specific circumstance which could benefit from this type of coverage, forward a proposal through the chain of command.
When making a statement to the media, you should be careful not to divulge information which:
- is a statement of individual opinion outside of a specific policing, fire or emergency service operation or incident of which you have command
- may hamper subsequent investigations or other police or fire incident inquiries
- identifies injured or deceased persons before the next-of-kin or relatives are advised or when there is a request to withhold the name (it is assumed that relatives do not want names released without their express consent)
- is by rule, direction, or policy precluded from release
- relates to police records (eg warrants, offender histories, or personnel records)
- would compromise judicial processes
- names a person charged with an offence - a statement may be made through the MU which specifies
- gender, age and general locality (eg southern suburbs) only
- identifies a victim or witness, without approval of that person
- identifies a juvenile offender or suspect, or
- concerns the location of a sexual crime whereby such information can lead to identification of the victim. (eg sexual assault victim lives in a street with a very small number of dwellings).
With particular reference to police, other important policies and practices which police throughout Australia need to follow carefully when issuing statements, cover topics including:
- personal descriptions, including nationality, appearance, and ethnic and cultural origin
- details concerning amounts of money involved in particular crimes
- information concerning suicides and attempted suicides, and
- details associated with bomb threats and explosions.
The Media Unit will advise on any of these issues and should be contacted if there is any doubt. From time to time there may be overwhelming public interest reasons for the release of personal information or the safety of the public or public interest may result in an exception to the above guidelines. Such release of information must be approved by a Regional Commander in urgent circumstances or normally by the DMCC or his/her acting officer in consultation with an Assistant Commissioner or above. In the incidence of fire situation or incident, the Chief Fire Officer or his designated officer, must give approval.
Major incidents - media access
At major incidents, the Operation Commander, with the assistance of Media Unit staff, should establish a location for gathering of media representatives. Usually this location would be at or near the operational command post. However, with the direct involvement of Media Unit staff (and with direct liaison with the Operation Commander) media representatives may be located as close as operationally possible to the incident or circumstance in a manner which does not impede police, fire or emergency service operations or places media representatives in danger or risk of injury.
It is important for the Operation Commander, in concert with Media Unit staff, to advice roadblock/cordon members of media arrangements. Members also need to be mindful that they cannot restrict media access to areas where members of the public have access. (However this is not always the situation where, for instance, people living in proximity to an incident are allowed access as opposed to people that do not live in that area).
Should NTPFES members require media representatives to remove themselves from an area, they should do so in a diplomatic way, explaining the reasons why.
If you are an Operation Commander operating without a Media Unit officer present, give the media current and accurate information and be available, if practicable, for formal media interviews at the scene. If possible, contact the Media Unit before any interviews.
The policy in relation to serious crimes is per the Major Crime Management Plan which stipulates that a police media officer be a member of the team responding to a declared major crime and shall answer directly to the Officer in Overall Command (OIOC) and/or the Senior Investigator in Charge (SIIC).
The OIOC shall be the nominated police media spokesperson for that investigation, or may nominate the SIIC to assume that role. The media officer will, amongst other duties, with the approval of the OIOC, instigate media conferences where media inquiries can be fielded. The primary role of the media officer will be one of support to the investigation team; provide advice on media strategies and address the requirements of the media community in general. A police media officer shall be included in all general incident briefings as appropriate and will be regularly updated on developments by the OIOC.
Joint agency operations
In joint agency or interstate operations the lead agency responsible for the principal investigation/operation will be responsible for releasing details, if any, to the media. If NTPES is the primary agency, you must forward all details to the Media Unit that will manage media communication.
When a person is detained or charged in the Northern Territory for a matter relating to another state or jurisdiction, any details released must be released through the Media Unit, which will contact respective interstate counterparts. Information must be limited to the fact that the person is in detention in the Northern Territory on behalf of another jurisdiction.
As a general rule you must not release photographic (including computer-generated images), or videotape material direct to the media. Only NTPFES media staff may release photographic/videotape material unless otherwise determined in consultation with the DMCC or in his/her absence the MMCC. The Media Unit is responsible for providing advice on releasing this material, including legal and impartiality aspects. In cases of emergency or for reasons relating to the protection of the community, a release may be made and when this occurs, the Media Unit should be advised.
As a general rule you must not release photographic (including computer-generated images), or videotape material direct to the media. Only NTPFES media staff may release photographic/videotape material unless otherwise determined in consultation with the DMCC or in his/her absence the MMCC. The Media Unit is responsible for providing advice on releasing this material, including legal and impartiality aspects.
In cases of emergency or for reasons relating to the protection of the community, a release may be made and when this occurs, the Media Unit should be advised.
Media representatives should carry identification provided by their employer that adequately identifies them and their organisation. Under normal circumstances, NTPFES does not issue media identification passes. Media identification does not carry an automatic right of access to a scene or provide unlimited authority to pass police, fire or emergency service lines. You should, however (in liaison with Media Unit staff) provide media representatives who have identification with information, particulars, and access that can be made available without compromising police, fire or emergency service operations.
While police and other NTPFES members have a right to expect media coverage to be fair, accurate and balanced, it is not a police role to act as censor or determine how an event is covered. Questions of taste are market driven and will be determined by media audiences. As a general rule, media organisations self-edit material prior to public consumption.
Urgent public broadcasts
Urgent media releases/broadcasts concerning public warnings or missing friends/relatives should be arranged through the Media unit. Urgent broadcasts seeking people regarding serious illness or death may be permitted.
Except in exceptional circumstances, and then only with the prior approval of an Assistant Commissioner or above, you must not use the services of media-owned transportation.
Crime Stoppers receives and disseminates information about criminal offences and relies on information from the public. NTPFES is party to a contractual arrangement which provides for the release of information and editorial material to a particular television station for use in Crime Stoppers promotions. The Media Unit in accordance with the contractual obligations manages the provision of such information.
Unauthorised media disclosure
Deliberate or inadvertent leaking of operational information is not only unprofessional but can be dangerous and place other members' safety at risk. Any member found to have deliberately leaked information to the public or the media will be subject to relevant disciplinary or criminal action as determined by the Commissioner.