Belfast Telegraph

Press ombudsman 'needed in NI'

A press ombudsman should be appointed in Northern Ireland to help bereaved families suddenly thrust into the media spotlight, according to a charity representing relatives of murder victims.

More sensitivity needs to be shown by news outlets covering people caught up in tragedy, according to Support after Murder and Manslaughter (Samm NI).

The group said a robust regionally based complaints procedure, with an ombudsman as point of contact, would assist families who feel aggrieved by elements of the press.

The call forms the basis of Samm NI's submission to the ongoing Leveson Inquiry into media practices and is based on the findings of research commissioned from the University of Ulster.

Samm NI's volunteer co-ordinator and chair Pam Surphlis, whose father Rev Eric Davidson and sister Judith were found murdered in his Cookstown home in 1992, said she wanted journalists to show more humanity in their dealings with victims.

"The people I represent never wanted to be in the media, but were thrust there because a loved one has been killed," she said.

"They are in shock, some are deeply traumatised, none has experience of dealing with the press. All we are asking is for some sensitivity, a recognition that journalists can add to the pain and suffering of victims if they go about their business in the wrong way."

Samm NI is calling for a new code of conduct that would see journalists recognise a family's fears that speaking to the media might prejudice a legal case and refrain from intrusion at funerals or "door stepping" family members for information or interviews.

Mrs Surphlis said: "Families here are unaware of how to make a complaint about media attention and often feel the Press Complaints Commission only monitors the press in Great Britain. A local ombudsman would give families great comfort.

"Information on handling the media and how to complain should be included in the bereavement guide given to all families after a murder. The ombudsman could also ensure ethics are included in journalism training, and that journalists are offered and avail of ongoing refresher courses."

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