Foreign journalists slammed over bomb reporting

By Neil Michael and Alyson Fixter

Complaints about Australian journalists harassing London bomb blast
survivors and their relatives at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington have
prompted an investigation by the country’s High Commission.

Transport for London’s press office has also condemned journalists
from US station ABC as “stinkers” and said that police have been sent
to stop foreign press entering the Underground stations caught up in
the blasts.

By contrast, TfL said the UK press had “behaved brilliantly”.

One
Australian reporter interviewed a patient after walking past security
staff at St Mary’s and straight on to his ward and another filmed a
bedside interview with the same patient.

Relatives of a female
patient at the hospital have claimed they were “chased” round a car
park by an Australian reporting team looking for an interview.

As
a result of incidents at St Mary’s, extra security was brought in to
guard the hospital and a police officer had to be stationed at the
entrance to the intensive care unit to keep reporters out.

The
hospital’s head of press, Claire Burroughs, said: “In the 13 years I’ve
worked in PR, I have never once come across such outrageous reporting
practices.

“As far as I am concerned a small number of Australian journalists behaved appallingly.

As a result of their behaviour, we had to cancel a number of interview and picture opportunities for other foreign journalists.”

She
claims a journalist arrived at St Mary’s last Friday carrying flowers
for bomb survivor John Tulloch, a university professor from New South
Wales.

When questioned by staff on their way to his ward, the reporter allegedly claimed to be one of his students.

According
to the hospital, the 63-year-old academic – who was injured in the
Edgware Road tube bombing – was on strong painkillers, did not have his
glasses and was suffering from hearing problems when he gave the
interview.

When the reporter left, a distressed Professor Tulloch
told staff he was exhausted and cancelled a TV and radio pool interview
that had been arranged for later in the day.

After a visit by
Prince Charles, a TV reporter went straight up to Tulloch’s ward and
filmed a two-minute interview which was later aired on Australian TV.

Neither of the interviews was done with the prior knowledge of security staff or the hospital press office.

Questions
have also been raised by Australian TV’s Media Watch programme about
the actions of Sharri Markson, of the Sydney-based Sunday Telegraph,
who was one of a number of Australian reporters to interview Professor
Tulloch.

Bosses at the Murdoch-owned paper insist none of their reporters were involved in any underhand reporting practices.

Head
of corporate affairs Janet Fife- Yeomans, who used to be a reporter at
Newcastle’s Evening Chronicle in the UK, said: “I am told Ms Markson
was never once asked where she was from and she never misrepresented
herself.

“She was always upfront about who she was and identified
herself to Professor Tulloch. He and his wife were happy to talk to
her.”

Channel 7’s correspondent Chris Reason, who videoed the
professor without contacting the hospital’s press office, denied
behaving in an underhand way.

He said: “I was told by a Royal
press officer that there was an Aussie patient who’d met Prince
Charles.”I went up to his ward, handed my business card to the chief
nurse and asked if I could chat to the professor.

“The nurse asked him, he said yes, and then I did my interview.

“He has worked with Channel 7 in the past and was more than happy to talk to me.

“I
admit I didn’t go through the press office and I regret problems this
may have caused, but I object to suggestions that I at any time
misrepresented myself.”

Rebbecca Armstrong, press attaché at the
Australian High Commission, said: “We’re trying to find out exactly
what happened and are investigating a number of complaints we have
received.

“As a result, we have asked all Australian news
organisations to stop approaching patients or their friends and
relatives. We’ve also asked them to remove their teams from hospital
sites.”

The Press Complaints Commission has received a number of
complaints about the actions of Australian journalists but it has no
jurisdiction over non- UK publications.

Stephen Webb, deputy head
of news at the Transport For London press office, called for a trade
body like the Foreign Press Association to step in over the behaviour
of some of the foreign media.

He said: “We took 1,000 calls from
the press on the Thursday alone, but the biggest frustration was on the
second day when journalists wanted pictures, to get on to the tube
system and ride round.

“US ABC particularly have been stinkers.
They have probably phoned this office 50 times since Thursday with
requests like: ‘We want to spend two hours down in the tube system with
[London Transport MD] Tim O’Toole touring the network, followed by a
halfhour interview’, all made within the space of half an hour to seven
or eight different people, and they were given the same answer every
time, which is that Tim is too busy trying to run the network.

“We’re
[also] constantly having to send press and British Transport Police to
Aldgate, King’s Cross and Russell Square because the media are trying
to get into the stations and interview staff.

“There are people
who have been through what the rest of us will hopefully never have to
go through, and they’ve gone straight back into work, and we’ve a duty
to defend them.”

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