Guidance on reporting major incidents

This guidance is currently being updated. You can download the current guidance on this page.

Guidance summary

It is in the public interest that the media reports on major incidents (which includes natural disasters, terror attacks and other such events).

In the immediate aftermath, such reporting plays an important role in informing the public of emerging developments and can be used to convey public safety messages. Over time, the reporting helps the public to understand how an incident happened, share their feelings of grief or compassion and to hold public authorities to account for any failures to respond appropriately.

IPSO recognises the pressures on journalists when reporting in these situations, which often require on-the-spot judgements.

This guidance provides editors and journalists with a framework for thinking through how to report on major incidents drawn from the Editors’ Code of Practice (the Code) and from some examples of relevant decisions by IPSO’s Complaints Committee.

A number of clauses in the Editors’ Code of Practice are relevant to the issue of reporting major incidents. These include Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock), Clause 6 (Children), and Clause 8 (Hospitals).

Published November 2019 (guidance under review)

Key points

  • There is a public interest in the reporting of major incidents, to inform the public of what has happened and over time allow the public to make sense of those events
  • Legitimate reporting of major incidents will often include approaches to individuals who have witnessed or been otherwise affected by the events; the Code does not seek to prevent this.
  • Journalists must approach individuals caught up in these incidents, or affected family and friends, with sensitivity and sympathy • Journalists must take care to distinguish between claims and facts when reporting on major incidents
  • Journalists must take particular care in relation to any content about a major incident which involves children, considering carefully how to avoid unnecessary intrusion.

External Links (These are not endorsed by IPSO)

The DSMA Notice System provides advice and guidance to the media about defence and security information, the publication or broadcast of which would damage national security, critical national infrastructure or endanger lives.

Victim Support in England and Wales supports people affected by a crime or traumatic event.

press@victimsupport.org.uk or phone 020 7268 0202 (Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm)

Victim Support Scotland supports people affected by a crime.

Major incidents guidance (2019)

Download a printable PDF (94.6KB pdf)