Media interference during incidents

Published:  11 June, 2018

Recent events such as Grenfell, the Manchester attacks and the Salisbury Novichock incident have highlighted how press attention can really influence incident response. However, there are ways to manage this problem, writes Matt Tee, CEO of the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

Firefighters are often the first to arrive at the scene of a fire or serious road traffic accident, helping victims and their families in the aftermath of such incidents.

In some cases, often during the most serious incidents, firefighters find themselves having to deal with journalists who arrive at the scene en masse to report on the events.

When carrying out their reporting, journalists working for regulated publishers must adhere to the strict rules in the Editors’ Code, enforced by the press regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).

The Editors’ Code requires journalists to approach bereaved family members with sympathy and discretion, not to break the news of a death to immediate family and to ensure their reports are accurate. Reporters must also respect privacy and stop their approaches if an individual decides they do not wish to talk to the media.

There is often huge public interest in the aftermath of a major incident like the Grenfell fire, Manchester Arena attack, terror attacks in London and the nerve agent attack in Salisbury. There is likely to be a large media presence, with local, national and international press in attendance. The impact of social media is also considerable.

So what can firefighters do if they are worried about press behaviour?

If someone has made clear they do not want to speak to reporters, firefighters and other responders can advise them to contact the IPSO 24-hour harassment helpline, or even contact us on their behalf.

During an incident, responders can even make contact with IPSO proactively if they are concerned about a developing situation – IPSO will be able to provide help and advice.

Where appropriate, we issue Private Advisory Notices to media making it clear an individual does not want to be interviewed and telling journalists to stop making approaches.

These notices are extremely effective as a tool to tackle media ‘scrums’ or to prevent harassment. It can also pass on concerns about the potential publication of intrusive or private information or help people find space at a time of grief or shock. Making it clear, for example, that those who have suffered a bereavement do not want to talk to the press.

Although IPSO does not regulate broadcasters, many voluntarily subscribe to the scheme so the notices can also be an effective way of communicating concerns to them.

In the last four years, IPSO has issued more than 150 Private Advisory Notices. In some cases, they take as little as 20 minutes to work.

When there is a concerned that coverage of an incident in a newspaper or magazine has breached the Editors’ Code, people can make a formal complaint to IPSO about the editorial material in print or online including articles and images and video. There is also an option to complain about the behaviour of journalists. We can investigate this and order the newspaper to publish a correction or full adjudication.

Too often people might think they are helpless in the face of the media. IPSO is here to ensure they are not. The organisation can help you in the aftermath of an event to make sure those affected are properly supported.

IPSO can be contacted on 0300 123 22 20. Our emergency 24 Hour Emergency Hotline is 07799 903 929. Find out more at

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