IPSO Blog: New advice on major incidents

It is strongly in the public interest that the media reports on major incidents, writes Charlotte Urwin.

In the immediate aftermath, such reporting plays an important role in informing the public of emerging developments and passing on public safety messages. Over time, as we saw with the Manchester Evening News’ coverage after the Manchester attack, reporting helps the public to understand how an incident happened and to share their feelings of grief or compassion. 

I know from speaking to journalists that reporting on major incidents can be some of the most professionally challenging and emotionally fraught reporting they experience in their career. Journalists are tasked with making difficult on-the-spot editorial judgements, balancing the needs of people caught up in those incidents with the public interest in reporting those events – often under significant time pressure. The challenges can be even more significant when reporting on an incident in the journalist’s local area. 

IPSO has developed guidance for journalists, to help them to make those difficult editorial decisions. The guidance covers key things that journalists should consider when live reporting on an incident; in the immediate aftermath or on the anniversary of the incident. It also highlights some useful case studies from IPSO rulings on this topic. 

Major incidents are often extremely traumatic experiences, for those who are caught up in them as well as for those who have witnessed them. Some individuals will wish to speak to journalists about their experience, whilst others will not.  

In addition to producing the guidance, we have also developed a leaflet for the public and for the emergency services, explaining why journalists might approach people after a major incident and what people can do if approached by a journalist. 

We know though that in the aftermath of a major incident, members of the public may not have time to look for information on press standards. So we have been working hard to raise awareness of IPSO and its services with organisations that support members of the public caught up in major incidents, including the emergency and medical services. Members of the public may turn to those organisation for advice following an incident, so it is vital that those organisations are aware of IPSO.


Originally published 25 June 2019.