OSCE Annual Police Experts Meeting: Good relations between police and media can raise public confidence, help solve crimes, keep communities safe
VIENNA – A healthy relationship between the police and the media can increase public confidence in law enforcement, help solve crimes and ultimately keep communities safe, said opening speakers of the 2020 OSCE Annual Police Experts Meeting (APEM), held in Vienna and online yesterday, 28 September 2020.
This year’s APEM, entitled “Police and the Media: Co-operation in the Public Interest”, brought together over 200 law enforcement practitioners; government officials; representatives of OSCE delegations, regional and international organizations; researchers, journalists and media experts, and civil society from OSCE participating States and Partners for Co-operation.
Participants acknowledged that direct communication with citizens via diverse media platforms have become an integral part of modern policing. In their efforts to share information and increase public confidence as well as prevent and reduce crime, police agencies are increasingly establishing specialized public relations and media units.
Opening the meeting on behalf of Albania’s 2020 OSCE Chairmanship, the country’s Deputy Minister of Interior, Romina Kuko, said: “Contemporary developments in the field of communication, digital technology and social media, have revolutionized the approach to events, news or communication style. Media already has access to almost unlimited information, meanwhile, the police, or any law enforcement organization, have an open field to collect first-hand evidence directly from the media. This situation requires for both parties (with opposing interests at first sight) to accept an indefinite co-operation contract, for the benefit of their work, but essentially for the benefit of the public.”
Considering widespread public access to social media, these platforms are increasingly becoming the preferred strategy of the police for directly communicating information to the public, and can help to detect crime, said Ambassador Luca Fratini, Director of the Office of the OSCE Secretary General.
“On the one hand, social media platforms have provided new tools for the police to directly engage the public,” he said. “On the other hand, targeted disinformation channelled through social media can inflict harm to public order, as well as lead to distrust towards law enforcement and feelings of insecurity among the public. … Transparency of the police work and its respect for human rights, including freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, is a principal way to counteract false and misleading messages, and avoid their actual and/or potential harm to society.”
As the media play an important watchdog role in democratic societies, journalists should enjoy safe access to report on public events at all times, including when covering demonstrations, unrest, catastrophic events and other public security incidents, noted Jürgen Heissel, Director of the OSCE Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media.
He added: “Oftentimes law enforcement officials are first in line when it comes to the protection of journalists. Together with the judiciary, they play a crucial role in protecting journalists and safeguarding a conducive media environment, both online and offline, and in combating impunity for crimes against media workers.”
Participants discussed good practices and lessons learned over the course of the one-day event.
The meeting’s first session discussed organizational changes and developments of skills and competencies within police agencies in public relations and media communications. Later, participants focused on new opportunities as well as challenges for the police with the expansion and advancement of social media. The final session was dedicated to the relationship and communication between the police and the media in crises and during high-risk events. Freedom of the media, journalists’ access to information and the safety of journalists were also covered.
Albania’s 2020 OSCE Chairmanship and the Strategic Police Matters Unit of the OSCE Secretariat’s Transnational Threats Department organized the event.
The main findings and outcomes of the meeting will be compiled in a report, which will serve as a basis for further discussions on its topics at the national, regional and international level, and as guidance for the OSCE when developing and providing capacity-building and technical assistance to the participating States and Partners for Co-operation.