IPSO Blog: Potential press harassment after major incidents – how we can help

Last week, the progess report of the inquiry into the Manchester arena bombing announced the panel would look at the role of both mainstream and social media during the response phase of the attack.

The inquiry’s Chair, Lord Bob Kerslake, said that after meeting with many of the families of those killed and injured, some had raised concerns about being approached by journalists in the hours and days after the attack.

Hearing these stories is very distressing – these families have suffered the most unimaginable loss and they have my deepest sympathies.

Reporting on situations like Manchester, where information is constantly developing and the situation is distressing and highly charged can be incredibly challenging.

The press do an important job – letting people know what has happened, bringing together the affected community and helping with the search for missing people.

Contacting people involved in a story is part of how news is gathered and often people will want to speak to the press. There are rules that journalists must follow, but even where journalists are following the rules, contacts can be distressing in the immediate aftermath of such a traumatic event.

IPSO can act positively to help families handle press interest that they are finding overwhelming, even where there is no harassment or intrusion by any individual journalist.

The Editors’ Code of Practice, the set of rules that newspapers and magazines regulated by IPSO must follow, is clear that journalists must not harass people or persist in contacting them once they have been asked not to (Clause 3 Harassment) and must make any enquiries involving personal grief and shock with sensitivity (Clause 4 Intrusion into grief or shock).

If any journalist has potentially breached the Editors’ Code a complaint can be made to us

How IPSO can help

We work proactively with ‘first responder’ organisations such as the police and support organisations to make them aware of this service should they need to use it. If such an event occurs, we also provide reactive help through our social media channels and by contacting those helping people affected directly.

We offer a 24/7 harassment helpline and regularly provide assistance to a range of people – from ordinary members of the public to celebrities and public figures. This includes practical advice about how to deal with journalist enquiries and guidance about your rights under the Editors’ Code.

In appropriate cases, we may also be able to issue an industry-wide private advisory notice, which makes editors’ and journalists aware of any concerns and what the Code says about how they should behave. Many people may want to share their experiences with the press, but for those who have concerns, we are happy to help, day or night. 

The notices are extremely effective as a tool to tackle media “scrums” or to prevent harassment and can also pass on concerns about the potential publication of intrusive or private information or help people find space at a time of grief or shock – making clear, for example, that those who have suffered a bereavement do not want to talk to the press. Failure to comply with a notice can be a breach of the Code.

You can find out more about our harassment service here.