Belfast Telegraph

Complaints Commission needs more local input

By Paul Connolly

I'd like to return, as promised, to the subject of bereavement and media ethics, following last week's column. If you recall, a charity called SAMM (Support After Murder and Manslaughter) published a report that concluded local journalists are too often crass, duplicitous and insensitive when it comes to dealing with families who have lost a loved one in such a manner.

SAMM's submission - presented throughout with the dignity and respect that so often characterises those who suffer bereavement in such circumstances - also urged the creation of a Northern Ireland Press Ombudsman as an antidote to journalistic misbehaviour.

I disagreed with their conclusions, questioned the robustness of the survey's methodology and also said I thought a national Press Complaints Commission (PCC) can properly reflect upon NI matters.

I have previously argued, however, it would greatly help matters if the PCC, and bodies associated with its operation and governance, had adequate representation from Northern Ireland and the other nations and regions of the UK.

If the BBC Trust believes it necessary to have trustees for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, then surely the same principle can apply to self-regulatory bodies concerned with the Press.

This would go some way towards answering the (largely unfair) criticism that the PCC is a remote, London-centric bureaucracy. Incidentally, another report on the media and bereavement by Jackie Newton, of Liverpool John Moores University, and Dr Sallyanne Duncan, of the University of Strathclyde, reaches radically different conclusions from SAMM.

Interviews with 55 journalists and 24 bereaved groups and families went a "long way to dispelling the myth that all journalists are uncaring, unprincipled hacks and that all bereaved families want to be left alone" and concluded there are many positive aspects to sensitively handled reporting.

As discussed previously in this column, the PCC published new guidelines last June for relatives on how to deal with journalists after a death. This advice, Media Attention Following A Death, is admirably informative and practical, setting out your rights against intrusion and also explaining that the media is entitled to report deaths as long as they do so sensitively.

Included is very useful advice on a wide range of issues including: inquests, how to close down a loved one's Facebook page, media requests for interviews/obituary details, and how to fend off unwanted attention.

On the latter, the PCC does put its money, metaphorically, where its mouth is with a telephone service (020 7831 0022) that includes a 24-hour emergency advice line (07659 152656).


From Belfast Telegraph