Belfast Telegraph

'Death knock' journalism to change for the better

By Paul Connolly

One of the most sensitive aspects of journalism is dealing with the reporting of death. This is particularly so when the passing of a person is something that happens in unusual circumstances, or is in some other way newsworthy.

The Press is entitled to publish stories about people who have died. What journalists are not entitled to do is research or publish stories in an insensitive manner.

However, even the most seemingly innocuous of issues can become highly emotive to people grieving the loss of a loved one, particularly if the reporter is not aware of all the details. The Editors' Code of Practice mandates newspaper journalists - broadcasters have their own codes - to adhere to common standards.

A range of Code clauses govern issues relating to the coverage of death, including Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply), Clause 4 (Harassment) and, significantly, Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock).

The latter instructs editors to ensure inquiries and publication are conducted sensitively.

Given that even the very prospect of media interest can cause distress to some relatives, it is surprising that there has been an absence of easily-accessible resources to assist families who might be in need of advice.

All this changed for the better this week, though.

The Press Complaints Commission has produced excellent guidance for members of the public who may experience media attention after the death of a loved one.

The leaflet is very helpful, setting out not just details of what journalists can and can't do, but also explaining what editors are within their rights to publish, provided they comply with the Code of Practice, of course.

Among the advice to families is the following:

  • What to do if a friend or relative of the deceased wishes to speak to the media - and what to do if they do not;
  • How to prevent unwanted approaches from journalists or photographers;
  • How to make representations after publication of material you are not happy with.

It also includes a very useful guide to the newsgathering process which will hopefully demystify what happens.

This comprehensive guide is available from the website of the Press Complaints Commission - www.pcc.org.uk.

If you don't have access to a computer, I'm happy to get one on your behalf.

Thanks to Betty Armstrong, from Bangor, who pointed out the error that allowed a June 4 caption to read: 'Fuji have went retro with . . . '

Hardly our finest grammatical moment, Betty, I'll admit.

It has been referred onwards.

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