The Varna Guidelines & Recommendations On Police - Media Relations


Considering Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms which guarantees the right to freedom of expression and information;

Considering also Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which guarantee the right to freedom of expression and information;

Considering Article 6 of the ECHR which guarantees that everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing of any criminal charge against him/her;

Considering A14 which prohibits discrimination on grounds of sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status;

Considering Council of Europe Declaration on the Police adopted by Parliamentary Assembly Resolution 690/1979, Chapter A on Ethics;

Taking into account also The UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Official which in Article 2 requires respect for human rights and human dignity;

Recognizing that in a democratic society all branches of government, including the police have a duty to provide information to the public about their work;

Recognizing that a transparent and accountable police service is an essential element in the democratic transformation of the police from a force to a service;

Recognizing that greater openness and transparency in the police can increase public confidence in the work of the police and thus aid crime detection and prevention;

Recognizing that the right to seek, receive and impart information is exercised through the mass media, and recognizing the media the role played by the media in informing the public on matters of public concern and in acting as a "watchdog" of government;

Recognizing that the ethical standards and codes of conduct of the journalistic profession are a matter for media professionals and are not the domain of legislation;

Guideline 1 : On Principle of Openness

In providing information to the public, the guiding principle for police services - and for police public relations departments and police spokespersons in particular - shall be that of transparency and openness.

1.1 The aim of police public information services shall be to provide to the media and to the public at large the full and timely information on all aspects of police work, including but not limited to the work of the police in the detection and prevention of crime and in keeping public order.

1.2 Information provided to the media and to the public shall include information relating to functioning of the relevant departments of the Ministry of Interior and the Police, such as financial reports and managerial structures.

1.3 Provision of information shall be governed, where relevant, by Access to Information Legislation, by internal guidelines, by the Administrative Code and by other requirements on the openness of all public bodies as interpreted in line with highest European and international standards

1.4 Information shall be provided to the media both pro-actively and upon request. The proactive provision of information shall include press communiques and press conferences. In addition, a delegated police spokesperson should be available at all times to answer questions from the media and to assist the media in collecting information on the work of the police.

1.5 Police Public Relations Services shall be structured in such a way as to facilitate the provision of full and timely information to the media.

Guideline 2 : On Balancing Public Interest with Legal Restrictions on Information

Limitations on information which the police make available to the public shall only be those which are legitimate under international law, including on grounds of national security, of public order, and of protecting the rights and reputations of others. In all cases any restrictions shall be carefully evaluated to ensure that the restriction is clearly defined in law and meets the test of being necessary in a democratic society. Public interest considerations should in all cases outweigh considerations of confidentiality.

2.2 Access to Information legislation should always take precedence over laws and regulations governing the classification of information. These laws will include:
- state secrets laws which classify information on grounds of national security
- the code of criminal procedure protections for criminal investigations and fair trials
- privacy and data protection legislation
- defamation provisions of civil and/or criminal codes

2.3 If any information is not clearly classified as confidential and a public relations officer or police spokesperson makes public this information, then that person shall in no way be held liable for the dissemination of that information.

Guideline 3 : On the Rights of Media to Seek, Receive and Impart Information

Police offices shall recognize the right of all media professionals to exercise the fundamental right seek, receive and impart information.

3.1 In exercising the fundamental right to seek, receive and impart information, the media shall be granted access to information held by the police and shall also be granted the widest possible right of physical access to any locations where they will be able to gather information.[** maybe add some detail here].

3.2 Police public relations officers shall recognize the professional duty of a journalist to double-check information and to seek multiple sources of information. Seeking and publication of information coming from alternative sources, which may at times conflict with official police statements, shall be tolerated and shall not result in any future discrimination in the provision of information to the journalist or media concerned.

3.3 Given that the media has a different function in society from the police and is not bound by the same obligations and responsibilities, the police shall refrain from attempting to use journalists as sources of information in criminal investigations, except insofar as the information held by the journalist is published in the media. This guideline does not preclude the fact that journalists may from time to time themselves be the direct subject of a criminal investigation.

3.4 The right of journalists to use and to protect anonymous sources of information shall be respected by the police at all times [see Council of Europe recommendation - add details **]

3.5 The police shall recognize that the work of the media in holding government bodies accountable will include scrutinizing and reporting on the work of the police and that, at times, this may include exposure of malpractice or corruption within the ranks of the police.

Guideline 4 : On the Rights of Victims and Witnesses

The rights of victims of crimes and of witnesses to crimes shall be respected in information made public by the police.

4.1 The privacy of victims of crimes and of witnesses to crimes shall be respected in all police communiques and statements. Special protection should be given to the victims of sexual crimes (rape; domestic violence) and to minors. This privacy consideration may be overridden when there is a public interest in the information, such as when the victim of the crime is a public official.

4.2 The police may adopt special procedures for providing media interviews with victims or witnesses in the interests of crime detection or prevention, such as be acting as an intermediary in gaining consent for an interview. In no cases should any pressure be brought to bear on the victim or witness to speak to the media.

The media shall also be bound by this guideline as a matter of professional ethics [see Recommendation 1 of the Varna Recommendations on Police - Media Relations].

Guideline 5 : On Presumption of Innocence & Right to a Fair Trial

The right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and the right to a fair trial shall be respected in all circumstances. These rights should be reflected and respected in all information provided by the police to the media.

In the public interest, police may provide additional information such as the names of alleged criminals may be published if these alleged criminals are public officials or figures. In all cases, however, the right to presumption on of innocence and the right to a fair trial should be respected to the fullest possible extent.

The media shall also be bound by this guideline as a matter of professional ethics [see Recommendation 1 of the Varna Recommendations on Police - Media Relations].

Guideline 6 : On the Principle of Non-Discrimination

Police information shall not contain any information which discriminates on grounds of race, ethnic group, nationality, colour, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status

6.1 Police information shall only mention the race or other features of a person involved in a crime, either as alleged perpetrator or victim, if this is directly pertinent and necessary given the nature of the crime and in the overriding interests of crime prevention or detection.

6.2 When presenting collected statistical information relating to the work of the police, care shall be taken to ensure that it does not discriminate on grounds of race, ethnic group, nationality, sex, sexual orientation, religion, belief or opinion. Statistical information may, however, present information relating to different groups of society providing that this is done in an non-discriminatory way and in the interests of meeting the public interest in having full information about the work of the police.

6.3 Care shall be taken to ensure that there is no discrimination in provision of information to media and the public. In particular, the police should not discriminate between different media enterprises or journalists, and should ensure that all members of the public have equal access to information held by the police.

Guideline 7: On Crime Prevention Information

7.1 The police should be open and proactive in providing to the media information that might aid crime prevention and detection. Such information includes information disseminated through the mass media, and other means such as through brochures, leaflets, posters, etc.

7. 2 Police are encouraged to cooperate with the media on disseminating crime prevention information.

It is recognized that the media play a very important role in disseminating information that promotes public awareness of crime and assists in crime prevention. On a voluntary basis, the media are encouraged to publish and broadcast such information [see Recommendation 1 of the Varna Recommendations on Police - Media Relations].

Guideline 8 : On Responding to Allegations of Police Malpractice and Corruption

** to be elaborated at the workshop **

The police shall ensure that the public is provided with the fullest possible information relating to allegations of and investigations into malpractice and corruption by the police. This information shall, to the greatest extent possible, be treated like other information held by the police. Where a crime is alleged or a criminal investigation launched, this information shall be presented to the public in the same manner as other crimes or investigations. It may be in the public interest, however, to provide additional information, such as the names of the police officers under investigation in the same way that the names of other public officials might be made public and in the interests of maintaining public confidence in the work of the police.


Recommendation 1: On Journalistic Ethics

It is recommended that all journalists and media enterprises adhere to codes of professional journalistic ethics and conduct. Such standards shall be elaborated and adopted by the media profession on a self-regulatory basis at the level of individual media or by associations or unions of media professionals. It is noted that international standards make clear that it is inappropriate for journalistic ethics to be prescribed by law.

It is recommended, in particular, that journalists codes of ethics uphold respect by journalist for Guidelines 4, 5 and 6 of the Varna Declaration on Police - Media Relations.

The Code of Conduct of the International Federation of Journalists is attached to these recommendations.

Recommendation 2: On adoption of detailed guidelines for the work of police public relations officers on a country-by-country basis

It is recommended that Ministries of Interior and/or the Police shall adopt detailed guidelines for the work of public for the work of police public relations officers. These may be further elaborated at the local level. The purpose of these guidelines shall be to facilitate the work of police spokespersons and all police officers in providing information to the public.

A sample of such Rules of Procedure for Public Relations Officers is attached to these recommendations.

Recommendation 3: On Training for Police Spokespersons and Police Officers

3.1 It is recommended that all police spokespersons receive regular training on the standards and procedures for provision of information to the media and the public. This training should include instruction on national law and how to balance public interest and right of access to information with any legal obligations to withhold classified information.

3.2 It is recommended that Ministries of Interior, Police Public Relations Departments and Police Training Schools and Police Academies, provide specific training for all police officers on the guidelines for provision of information. Regular police officers should have a clear knowledge of the types of information which may be provided to the public on a day-to-day basis and an understanding of the role of the media and how to treat journalists in all the various situations in which they may come into contact with the police officers.

Recommendation 4 : On Cross-Border Cooperation on Information Exchanges

4.1 It is recommended that the police public relations services of neighbouring countries in Europe develop procedures for the exchange of public information related to preventing and detecting cross-border crimes. These information exchange agreements will include sharing of published information relating to cross-border crimes, such as smuggling, traffic of illegal goods, and the trafficking of women and illegal migrants. This information exchange will also include making this information available upon requests to journalists, NGOs and members of the public in order to facilitate research into cross-border crimes and to aid crime-prevention work.

4.2 It is recommend that procedures be developed to support the work of journalists. This could include provision of contacts for journalists and facilitating the investigative work of visiting journalists in the same way as would be done for journalists of that country. Such support might also include, where appropriate, material support should be provided to journalists carrying out such investigations, for example, providing support for visa applications.

NB: It is recognized, as noted in Guideline 3 of the Varna Declaration, that journalists carrying out investigation into cross-border crimes will, as with other journalistic investigations, also seek alternative sources of information.

English Version • Last Update:10.12.2001 • © 1999 Copyright by Interia & AIP