IPSO Blog: Manchester Arena attack – supporting the victims and their families

The official report into the aftermath of last year’s Manchester Arena attack by Lord Kerslake includes an examination of media behaviour and criticism of some parts of the press at a time of enormous vulnerability for families of the victims.

The report recognises that the media has an important role to play in such incidents and cites many positive examples, particularly in respect of the local newspapers. Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham also acknowledged at time, the media’s positive role in helping to unite the city and celebrate its resilience.

It is clear however, that some, but by no means all, of the media, added to the distress experienced by some families of victims and that the experiences they discussed with Lord Kerslake were mostly negative.

Reporting in the aftermath of a major incident like Manchester is incredibly challenging. There is a huge public interest and there is likely to be a large media presence, with local, national and international press in attendance. The impact of social media is also considerable, and the report identified that in the case of the Manchester arena attack, it played a key role in “accelerating the pace at which information…became more widely available”.

The press has a narrow path to tread between reporting accurately and sympathetically on tragedies on the public’s behalf and respecting the feelings of those most directly affected.

The Editors’ Code – the set of rules that IPSO members must follow – requires journalists to approach bereaved family members with sympathy and discretion, not to break the news of a death to immediate family and to ensure their reports are accurate. Reporters must also respect privacy and stop their approaches if an individual decides they do not wish to talk to the media.

It’s important to note that The Editors’ Code covers the conduct of journalists in newsgathering as well as articles which are published in print or online. If the journalist in question is freelance, any content used by an IPSO publisher must be in line with the Code and have been gathered in accordance with it.

The report was clear that it did not want to take individual media agencies to task, but that it was important to “understand how families can be better protected in the future”. I believe this is also vitally important.

IPSO has a 24 hour harassment helpline, and our Private Advisory Notices, circulated widely, might warn that a particular individual or family does not wish to talk to journalists.

We provide information for the public, including what to expect from the media after an unexpected death and how the press use social media. For journalists and editors, there’s IPSO guidance on how they should report deaths and inquests.

I have read the recommendations made by Lord Kerslake and we will certainly be looking at what more we can do to support  victims, families and the agencies that work with them in situations such as the Manchester attack as well as making sure that IPSO-regulated publishers are aware of their obligations and responsibilities under the Editors’ Code.