Press Complaints Commission|
I have been informed, by Bob Satchwell (the Director
of the Society of Editors) that your committee is interested in
exploring issues to do with media coverage of the Derrick Bird
shooting. I thought it might be useful for me to set down how
the Press Complaints Commission acted in response to what happened
in Cumbria on 2 June 2010.
When the PCC became aware of the incident (early
in the afternoon, after two shootings had been reported), we contacted
local police and hospitals to inform them about the PCC's services.
Over the course of the next few days we had several conversations
with police communicators, and were on hand to offer advice and
support with media concerns.
The PCC runs a 24-hour system by which anybody who
feels harassed by the physical attention of the media (both broadcast
and print) can speak immediately to senior members of PCC staff.
We can disseminate any family's request to be left alone across
the whole industry. This invariably relieves the pressure,
and stops people being contacted without consent. We were asked
to do this on one occasion by a family in Whitehaven, and believe
this was effective. The same system can be used to inform
editors of privacy concerns, and so prevent intrusive material
Given the very high-profile nature of the incident,
I travelled in July to Cumbria for meetings with local police,
the editor and deputy editor of the Whitehaven News, and local
clergy (including the Archdeacon of West Cumberland), who played
a prominent role in the aftermath of the tragedy. I also
had an open letter published in the Whitehaven News, encouraging
people to come forward with complaints. I attach an example of
a complaint being resolved by the PCC: http://www.pcc.org.uk/news/index.html?article=NjUzOA.
I also attach, for information, a document (which we will shortly
be publishing) on how the PCC generally responds to major media
events (such as the Derrick Bird case), which I hope is useful
and shows how we seek to be of assistance at such times.
I see from the published evidence to your committee
that Jamie Reed MP has expressed particular concerns about the
media coverage. Sadly, Mr Reed has failed to respond to repeated
requests from the PCC for a meeting so that we could address those
concerns, and offer assistance to any constituents with particular
problems. We remain, of course, available to address any
specific issues that have arisen.
Evidence has also been submitted by Professor Ashton,
whoI notewould like to see a Code of Practice for
all coverage of shooting incidents. His concerns appear
to span both print and broadcast media, in this country and abroad.
I presume that you will be writing to representatives of
both broadcast and print media, and considering the global aspect
of such coverage, but wanted to highlight the fact that the PCC
independently enforces a Code of Practice (written by a body of
editors) that is subject to annual consultation. I would be happy
to pass on any suggestions to the appropriate person for how this
Code might be amended. You may wish to contact
the Committee directly with proposals. I will also
be in touch with Professor Ashton, to see if he would like to
discuss his concerns further.
PCC RESPONDS TO
This explanatory note sets out what action the Press
Complaints Commission takes following a major incident (such as
an accident, natural disaster, attack on human life) in which
media attention on those affected is likely to be intense.
As soon as it becomes clear that sustained media
attention is likely to follow a news story, the PCC will act immediately,
attempting to contact the subjects or victims of the incident.
Where appropriate, it makes contact directly. However, for practical
reasons, in most cases it contacts an intermediary and request
that a message is passed on. Examples of intermediaries include:
the local police force (usually via the press office);
the Coroner or Coroner's Officer (or the Procurator
Fiscal in Scotland);
the MP or other elected representative;
the hospital(s) and/or NHS authorities dealing with
a solicitor or agent, if one is named;
the local religious or other community leader(s);
any other representative whose name has been made
In the case of particularly large-scale incidents
which are likely to involve the full range of emergency services,
the PCC contacts the regional COI (Central Office of Information)
group, a government body which runs a series of Regional Media
Emergency Forums co-ordinating the response to such incidents.
Generally speaking, initial contact is made on the
telephone, with a follow up email then sent. The PCC explains
how it can help vulnerable individuals in the following ways:
1. If someone does not wish to speak to the
media: the PCC can send a private advisory note to editors,
making clear an individual does not wish to comment publicly on
their situation. This can help to prevent any unwanted media approaches
being made at all.
2. If someone is being harassed by a journalist
or photographer: the PCC can issue a private "desist
notice" which requests journalists and photographers cease
their approaches with immediate effect. This can be sent either
to an individual publication if the concern relates to a specific
title, or to the industry more widely if the concern is more general
or appears to involve multiple publications.
3. If someone is concerned about a story that
has already been published: the PCC can deal with a formal
complaint under the Editors' Code of Practice (see http://www.pcc.org.uk/cop/practice.html).
The PCC ensures that all of its contact details are
made available at this time (including the 24-hour emergency number),
and that the individual or their representative is aware of the
relevant parts of the Code. It also points people in the direction
of any relevant guidance notes which may be helpful, for example
on dealing with media attention in the aftermath of a death (which
has recently been revised), or the rules on reporting inquests.
An offer to send printed copies of literature will also be made
at this stage.
A copy of a tailored briefing on how the Commission
can help in major incidents is then sent. The PCC representative
always explains that, in sensitive situations, its advice is confidential.
If the incident or death has happened abroad and
British nationals are affected, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
is responsible for co-ordinating the help they receive. If the
incident involves a large number of people, or is otherwise significant,
the PCC can contact the FCO to offer its assistance in managing
any problems with media attention. We point out that journalists
working for foreign titles do not fall under our remit, but that
journalists working abroad for British titles are expected to
abide by the terms of the Code. In some circumstances, the PCC
can pass on concerns about journalists' behaviour to other press
councils, if one operates in the country in question.
The PCC has worked with the FCO to arrange for information
about its services to be included in the FCO's Guide
for bereaved families2,
a copy of which is given to families who suffer the death of a
family member outside the UK.
The PCC continues to stay in contact with the officials
involved throughout the duration of the incident and its aftermath.
PCC staff are always willing to speak on an out-of-hours basis.
The PCC promptly responds to any concerns raised
either by people directly affected by the incident or by third
parties. It considers, as far as possible, comments about the
incident made in the press or on social media by those involved.
The PCC regularly works with emergency service providers,
so that those supporting the vulnerable know how it can help even
before something happens. Some examples of this work (which the
PCC is always looking to expand and improve) include:
liaising with DCMS to publish information in its
"Humanitarian Assistance in Emergencies"3
liaising with the Ministry of Justice to publish
information in its "Charter for bereaved people";4
running training seminars for police press and family
liaison officers throughout the UK;
contacting the Association of Chief Police Officers
(ACPO), the Association of Police Public Relations Officers (APPRO)
and the National Executive Board for Family Liaison to offer information;
maintaining contact with various parts of the NHS
(for example, Strategic Health Authorities and specialist hospitals)
in order to ensure that those representing vulnerable individuals
understand the protection offered by the Code of Practice;
sending targeted brie$fing notes and literature to
key emergency service contacts, and offering talks to explain
the PCC's work.
2 Foreign and Commonwealth
3 Department for Culture,
Media and Sport: http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/media/132796/hac_guidance.pdf
4 Ministry of Justice:
Scott Langham, Head of Complaints: firstname.lastname@example.org
Press Complaints Commission
London EC1N 2JD
020 7831 0022 (within office hours: Monday to Friday 9am to 5.30pm)
07659 152656 (emergency number for use outside office hours, primarily
in cases of harassment by journalists or for pre-publication advice).