A Reading coroner’s request to journalists to wear press badges "prominently" when they attend inquests so that bereaved relatives know the press are present is being strongly resisted by local media.
Dr AJ Pim has issued a letter to journalists telling them that, at a meeting on 13 March, he heard a member of a bereavement support group speak of "the considerable distress caused to relatives by seeing personal details in print in the local paper". Coroners’ officers, he said, normally advise that the press would be attending the inquest, but added: "I suspect that that fact is then forgotten."
Dr Pim added: "I cannot stop you publishing material presented during the course of the inquest but I am suggesting that it is reasonable to ensure that you wear your press badges prominently while within the civic centre. In this way, relatives will know whom they are speaking with."
The reaction from Ian Francis, deputy editor of the Reading Evening Post, was simply: "We would not adhere to it under any circumstances. We can see no good reason for it. It is a public place and the press have got a right to report on the proceedings.
"In terms of journalistic safety, it would put journalists in jeopardy if they went round with ‘press’ tattooed on them.
"We are not McDonald’s workers; we don’t have to have our name on what we wear.
"Most people are aware that press do cover proceedings and we would always make ourselves known to relatives if we were going to approach them anyway."
He viewed it as "another encroachment on reporters trying to report courts and inquests".
Adrian Seal, editor of the Reading Chronicle, said: "My journalists don’t have press badges so it is a little bit
difficult. Obviously our journalists would always make it quite clear that they were doing this for the paper."
Neil Hyde, boss of the Reading-based INS news agency, was adamant: "No journalist who works for me would ever interview anybody without telling them who they were in the first place."
He, too, thinks wearing a badge would make journalists a target for harassment: "I would be against it totally. Sitting at inquests without name badges has worked perfectly well in the past. We would resist it quite strongly."
He also stressed inquests were public hearings into the cause and reasons for a death.
"There has been some difficulty in the past in making sure all details come out," Hyde pointed out. "The police nowadays are reticent to give names and addresses in road accidents leading up to inquests. Anything which will make this more difficult is to be resisted."
By Jean Morgan