Too many stories provide far too much detail - a simple guide to avoid breaching reporting restrictions

I still see news stories that provide far too much detail about people whose identifications are legally restricted.

If the ID restrictions are in force for alleged victims of sexual offences, or under-18s involve in crime, this simple guide might help:

1. The media must NEVER publish their:

  1. Name
  2. Address
  3. School, college or workplace [even if these details don’t lead to ID]
  4. Photos, videos or CCTV – unless their ID is thoroughly obscured.

It can still be dangerous to publish photos of people facing away from the camera, or taken from behind.

Watch out for other features that may identify people in photos / videos:

  • Hairstyle
  • Hat or head covering
  • Tattoos
  • Where the person is standing, eg outside their office
  • Unusual clothing
  • Injuries, scars etc
  • Unusual or distinctive watch, headphones etc.

2. Also, the media must NEVER publish ‘any details that could lead to protected people being identified by people who know them.’       

This includes parents, partners, husbands, wives, close family, work colleagues.

AGES are usually dangerous and are best generalised: A teenage girl … a man in his 40s … a boy under 5 etc.

Watch out for these kinds of details, which can lead to ID:

  • The name of a village or small geographical area
  • A geotag that includes a postcode
  • Unusual facts – she has 8 brothers and sisters; he rides a quad bike; her partner is a chimney sweep; he mother is a ballet teacher; she was out walking her two Dalmatians.
  • Circumstances at the time of the crime: She was on her way home from her French evening class; It happened in the park just after the under-12s cup final; He was following his usual journey to work after catching the 8.10am from London Bridge.
  • Injuries: he broke his collarbone. He received 50 stitches to a facial wound. He is now on crutches. He hands were seriously burned in the attack.

The MORE details you use, the more dangerous it is, ESPECIALLY when details are placed alongside the person’s AGE.

3. Check other media. Use the SAME details as them … and FEWER if they have overstepped the marked. DON’T add new details to those used by other media.

4. Make sure the same details are used across your OWN platforms – ie, in print, web, Twitter, Facebook, RSS.

It’s a CRIMINAL OFFENCE if you breach these … and YOU, the individual sub / reporter / editor can be prosecuted.

Cleland Thom is a consultant and trainer in media law

 

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