Credit: By Mike Labrum on Unsplash

Reporting on loss of life is one of the most delicate forms of journalism, one that calls for skilled and nuanced sensitivity from news providers. More than simply documenting recent events, it is important to carefully consider how reporting can impact the lives of those directly affected, including grieving family and friends.

A powerful new short film by campaign group Hacked Off has shone a light on the impact of press intrusion into grief by sharing stories from affected families across the country. 

In the film, we meet a mother who was bombarded with relentless questions and sensationalised news coverage while grieving for her teenage daughter; we hear of an abusive father being misogynistically glorified in national press coverage; and we hear from a woman who was forced to relive the trauma of losing her daughter after national media published CCTV footage of the moments leading to her death.

Heather Teale, who lost her daughter Bethany in 2018, describes how she was pushed beyond her limit, and believes "eventually somebody will harm themselves because of [press intrusion], and it has to stop."

Through these personal stories, the film highlights how damaging press intrusion into grief can be for members of the public, and how important it is that these stories are appropriately reported, out of respect to those directly involved and to ensure sensationalised reporting does not inspire copycat acts of violence or self-harm.

The IMPRESS Standards Code offers clear guidance to journalists on how to responsibly report on loss of life and respect the privacy of individuals and their families.

Clause 7.2 of the IMPRESS Standards Code says that publishers must "take all reasonable steps not to exacerbate grief or distress through intrusive newsgathering or reporting." 

The Code states that when reporting on loss, "journalists should be particularly careful to avoid making any approaches that may result in the harassment of a person who is suffering from grief or shock, or towards their friends, colleagues or wider families."

IMPRESS also operates a whistleblowing hotline, run by Protect, which allows employees and contributors from the news industry to anonymously report concerns about editorial and ethical conduct in the newsroom, including those regarding intrusion into grief. In serious circumstances, where there is strong reason to believe that a regulated publication is committing serious and/or systemic code breaches, IMPRESS also has the power to launch self-initiated investigations into a publication’s published material and reporting practices.

The IMPRESS Standards Code and wider regulatory scheme have been designed to protect the public from press abuse, while supporting publishers to tell stories in an ethical and sensitive manner, with accountability, to help ensure stories like those highlighted in Hacked Off’s film are not repeated.

Key tips from IMPRESS for journalists reporting on grief:

  • Reporting on matters of public interest where the public has a legitimate stake in a matter of importance in society can, at times, mean publishing stories involving death and shocking events; the journalist may wish to raise awareness, and or expose negligence or other wrongdoing.
  • Publishers should be careful to avoid exacerbating such people’s grief or shock by publishing unnecessary or sensational details of an event.
  • In most circumstances, publishers should wait until death has been formally confirmed and the family has been notified before identifying any deceased person.
  • Further advice and support for those experiencing grief is available from Samaritans and Cruse Bereavement Support.

This article from IMPRESS is republished with permission. The original can be found here.

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