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Coping with the Media

For most bereaved people their grief is a private matter, shared with family and friends. Their only contact with the media is to place a death notice in the appropriate newspaper if they choose to do so.

Some deaths such as a result of an accident, a major disaster, suicide or homicide may attract the attention of journalists. Some families may welcome this opportunity to tell the story of what has happened, but for others this is an unwelcome intrusion. Help is available if this is the case. 

If police have been involved in investigating the death, a family liaison officer may be able to offer advice on issuing a statement to the media using the police press office. If the death has taken place in a hospital, they may also have a public relations department which may be able to assist.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation suggest that it may help to have someone who you trust but not quite as emotionally affected by the deaths make a short statement to journalists if they appear outside your home. The end of this could be a statement saying you will make no further statements and asking for your privacy to be respected. They also suggest placing a note on your front door stating that you do not wish to speak to the press and asking not to be disturbed. Consider changing your answer-machine message to invite personal callers only to leave a message as you will not be speaking to journalists. 

Ofcom (the Office of Communications) has a Code for broadcasters (i.e. TV, radio and internet) which states that they should not take or broadcast film or audio recordings of people who have suffered a personal tragedy unless it is warranted or the people concerned have given consent. However, what is thought to be warranted in the public interest is a matter of debate. In particular, broadcasters should be careful not to reveal the identity of anyone who has died until it is clear that next of kin have been informed or broadcasting is warranted (e.g. police have requested the identity be released because they have been unable to trace next of kin). Ofcom can only respond to complaints after a programme has been broadcast if it is believed to have been an intrusion into privacy. If you believe the programme content was inaccurate, you should contact the broadcaster directly.

There is a 24 hour emergency service (agreed by Ofcom and the Independent Press Standards Organisation for print media) that a family can telephone if they feel harrassed because a journalist has approached them inappropriately and persists even though they have been asked to leave the family alone. Do ask the journalist what publication they work for. Staff on the number will forward the family's concerns to editors but cannot guarantee that a journalist will withdraw. The number is  0300 123 2220 during office hours and 07659 152656 at all other times. You will need to leave a message with your phone number and you will be called back.

If you are concerned about publicity that may appear in a newspaper or magazine (including their on-line sites) you can seek the advice of the Independent Press Standards Organisation who may be able to speak with the publication to ensure the Editors' Code of Practice about respect for privacy is adhered to.

Independent Press Standards Organisation: 0300 123 2220 9am-5.30pm Mon- Friday

Office of Communications: 0300 123 3333 9am-5pm Mon-Fri

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