IPSO Blog: Reporting on terror attacks

Head of Communications Vikki Julian discusses Survivors Against Terror's report on media intrusion following a terror attack

This week Survivors Against Terror published a new report based on a survey of 116 survivors of terror attacks including those at Manchester Arena, London Bridge, Westminster Bridge and Parsons Green in 2017, the mass shootings at a Tunisia tourist resort and a Paris concert venue in 2015, and the 7/7 London Tube and bus bombings in 2005. The report found that 59% experienced what they considered to be media intrusion, half of which (48%) came within 24 hours of the attack.

The report makes several recommendations including the creation of a Survivors’ Support Hub which would help people in dealings with the media after a terror attack as part of its remit.

As the independent regulator of most newspapers and magazines in the UK, IPSO works closely with external organisations where they have concerns which intersect with the Editors’ Code, the set of rules it regulates.

Reporting in the aftermath of a major incident can be very challenging. It is very important that the media can report freely and in the public interest, while balancing the need to respect the privacy and feelings of those most directly affected.

Of course, it is an individual decision about whether or not to speak to the press. Some people do not want to, whereas others want to raise awareness or share their story. Notably, the report also identified that 55% of the survey respondents said they had positive experiences with the media.

The Editors’ Code 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 people’s privacy and stop their approaches if an individual decides they do not wish to talk to the media.

The 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.

IPSO has published guidance aimed at editors and journalists which covers how the Editors’ Code applies to the reporting of major incidents, including case studies of rulings made by its Complaints Committee.

IPSO is supportive of the creation of a Survivors Hub. We recognise the first 48 hours after an attack are crucial and we work closely with first responders and others to let them know how IPSO can help in these situations, including making proactive approaches about IPSO’s relevant services.

IPSO has a 24-hour helpline for those concerned about potential media intrusion, and can circulate privacy notices, which set out that a particular individual or family does not wish to talk to journalists. We also provide information for the public on reporting of major incidents, what to expect from the media after an unexpected death and how the press use social media.

It’s crucial to listen to the experience of victims, survivors, and their families and although some of the situations described in the report are difficult and upsetting, the report raises some very important issues.  It is also very important that journalists are able to report on events like terror attacks freely and in the public interest, in line with the standards set by the Editors’ Code of Practice. This will always be a difficult balancing act.