PCC: 'Simply wrong' to say we do not provide death-knocks guidance

Press Complaints Commission director Stephen Abell has got in touch to say that it is “simply wrong” to suggest, as I did in a blog post yesterday, that the PCC provides scant guidance for journalists and editors on the subject of death-knocks.

The Editors’ Code simply states that enquiries and approaches should be made with sympathy and discretion.

But Abell has pointed out that the PCC publishes a leaflet, available online, which details what people should do if they feel they are being harassed by a journalist.

The PCC has also published a leaflet headed “Media attention following a death”.

In this the PCC notes:

“When there is no public interest for doing so, journalists should not follow or persistently question people once they have been asked to desist. The PCC can help with unwanted approaches by passing desist messages to relevant editors and broadcasters. In emergencies, this service can be accessed out of office hours by calling 07659 152656.”

Outlining the work the PCC does do in this department, Abell said:

“We have supplied this information to every police force and coroner’s court (and NHS Trust) in the country, so that those with best access to the grieving can make them aware of the PCC. Additionally, we are now involved in the briefing and training of individuals (such as family liaison officers, police comms teams, health professionals, press people at the MOD), so that they can use the PCC on behalf of the grieving to the best effect.

“We also proactively contact relevant bodies, such as the police, in regard to newsworthy events, where we feel there may be vulnerable people concerned (we have done so on several occasions over the last few weeks). We are also developing an appropriately-worded text to send out uniformly on such occasions. As it happens, we are now finding that such calls become thankfully superfluous, as the organisations have already passed on our information and guidance to the bereaved. This is how it should be.”

Journalist Chris Wheal is meeting the PCC next week to discuss a number of ways he thinks press dealings with the bereaved could be improved. He acted as family spokesman in July when his nine-year-old nephew died in a rope-swing accident.

He found that despite making it clear that he was the official family spokesman, some journalists persisted in trying to contact the family directly despite being asked not to, and that one agency even phoned up the parents to offer them money for the story.

It sounds like these issues could have been headed off by a quick call to the PCC number listed above. So despite the good work the PCC is obviously doing, outlined by Abell above, there is clearly more to do in communicating its role if even a working journalist like Wheal didn’t know this service was on offer.

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