Wheal's death-knock plan exposes scant guidance from the PCC on dealing with the bereaved

Chris Wheal makes a number of interesting points in his latest blog post on death-knocks and dealing with the bereaved.

He suggests in a nutshell that those who have lost a loved one should be given guidance on what the media will want and that an intermediary should be appointed to communicate their wishes to journalists.

He proposes they are given five options:

1 – Happy to sell the story to the highest bidder.

2 – Happy to talk to each and every journalist interested.

3 – Prepared to speak to one journalist only and have the information shared with the rest of the media.

4 – Prepared to provide printed material only (including photographs).

5 – Wanting nothing to do with the press.

Wheal has certainly exposed the shortcomings of a system of press self regulation which simply states that “approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion”.

The instinct of the Press Complaints Commission has, over the years, been to only alter the code when a major problem crops up – as in the case of News of the World phone-hacking scandal when it toughened up the rules on subterfuge.

But Wheal has highlighted the fact that every week there are grieving people who will have had their troubles worsened by the stress of dealing with entirely legitimate but nonetheless upsetting press enquiries.

Here is an opportunity for the PCC to take some proactive action to do some good.

In the best cases, a grieving family will receive one approach – from an experienced and sensitive local newspaper journalist – who will talk them through the options and guide them to making the best decision for all concerned over how much information to release. But this is not always the case.

The editors on the PCC Code Committee, led by the Daily Mail’s Paul Dacre, would do editors a great service if they could flesh out the very sketchy current guidance in the code on dealing with the bereaved. And, as Wheal suggests, it would be a great idea if the PCC could produce a leaflet – drafted in the sensitive terms he suggests – detailing what families should expect.

I think Wheal’s suggested wording is spot on:

Whatever you have heard about the press they are just like you. They will hear of your story and they will know that many of their readers will want to know the details and have a chance to pay tribute to your loved one. I know it is the last thing you are thinking of right now but please take time to think about this.

Such a leaflet would not only help the families, but make things easier for journalists – most whom find ‘death-knocks’ pretty upsetting themselves.

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