Police should collaborate with media in order to defend itself from political influence by promoting the protection of law and order and professional standards.
By Luka Ličina (BCSP) / Photo: Slobodan Georgiev (Media Centre, Belgrade)
Communications with media are at the very core of policing. Only a few activities in police sectors are today more important than the press and public relations for and with the law enforcement agencies. In times past this was not recognized, but today we are the witnesses that police officers diligently working to improve relations with the public and media.
A good and working relationship with the media and police starts with establishing credibility. It seems that this is an issue in Serbia due to the fact that minister of interior is trying to use the media as a channel for personal campaigns. Today, the POINTPULSE Network is talking with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network coordinator for Serbia Slobodan Georgiev about media-policing nexus in Serbia and the Western Balkans.
─ Why is cooperation between media and police important? Is it necessary to regulate that cooperation?
Both institutions should work in public interest and that is the reason why cooperation is necessary. Also, the activities of both sides should be bordered by the internal code of ethics. If it’s not so we going to face with wrong doings from both sides: publishing of information which do not serve the public interest but some individuals involved in criminal activities.
─ Are there any specific areas of police work where cooperation between media and police is absolutely necessary and important?
In the area of protecting human rights of the victims and also, those who are accused of some criminal wrongdoings. Journalists should learn more about the methodology of police work and police officers should understand the nature of media.
─ How do you assess communication and cooperation between the police and media in Serbia? What’s your opinion on this topic?
We do not have communication between police and the media, we have perverted communication between the ministry of interior and the media. Police officials are available for the media just in crisis situations like floods or when media ask about the situation in the field of protection of the children in the schools or domestic violence. In any other sensitive case, we do not have proper communication. Ministry is trying to use the media as a channel for personal campaigns.
─ The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network cover the whole region. What is common and what is different for the Western Balkans communities in regard to cooperation between media and police?
This is very complicated but our experience shows that everywhere situation is similar: in the fields of police work where police officials did have chance to act as professionals we have better communication and those are areas with deep monitoring involvement of international organizations; at the other hand, in sensitive cases we do not see readiness of police, of local ministries of interior, to communicate more than is important for them which is not always in the line with public interest.
─ Information leakage from the police is often quoted as one of the main problems in Serbia. Why is it so? Whether the situation is similar in other Western Balkan countries?
It is similar everywhere in the whole region but in Serbia no one cares about that accept the Ombudsman office. For example, in Montenegro, it is one of the major topics since the formation of the special prosecutor’s office for organized crime. The situation in Serbia shows that there is not a proper system of information flow within the ministry of interior and that information leakage is used for political purposes.
─ What is the main recommendation for improving media and police cooperation in Serbia? Can we learn something from others in the region?
Police should work together with Office of Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection in order to define what kind of information citizens and the media can get from that institution. Also, police should initiate training for the journalists in order to enhance their knowledge of police work in all its aspects. Police should collaborate with media in order to defend itself from political influence by promoting the protection of law and order and professional standards in the institution.