Intrusion into grief

Press regulation must be better. At the moment it is doing nobody any favours.

Pile of broadsheet newspapers folded up


Last year I took out a complaint with the Independent Press Standards Organisation [IPSO] after the Daily Mail published the CCTV footage of my daughter’s last moments the morning after her death with a lurid clickbait headline, just as we were trying to explain to our other children what had happened. I complained that it was an intrusion into grief and therefore in breach of IPSO’s code on this. I thought it was an open and closed case. Clearly it was a breach. If it wasn’t, what actually would constitute a breach?

There then followed months of me having to respond to the Daily Mail’s ‘defence’ of their actions. Each time I had to do so was extremely upsetting. I told IPSO this. They suggested I might like to drop the case. I am not one to drop things that I believe are wrong so on we went.

Eventually, several months later IPSO ruled that it was not a breach of their code. One of the reasons given was that you couldn’t make out my daughter’s face because the footage was ‘grainy’. The video was embedded in a story about her death. Three of my brothers saw it. They knew exactly who it was. My concern was that my children might view it – visual images stay with you much more than words. It cut off just before the moment of impact [‘sensitively’, said IPSO], but it is the bit before the impact that is perhaps the most difficult to view as a parent – the moment you go over and over in your mind as you mentally try to save her again and again and again.

I have never viewed the CCTV footage. At the sentencing of the driver responsible for my daughter’s death her boyfriend and friend who were there on the night and me and my partner left the courtroom. The driver himself refused to come to court – twice – which is another story.

I told IPSO that I found the whole process unnecessarily distressing and that, in my view, they had failed to uphold journalistic standards. They suggested I could train their liaison people how to handle people like me. It’s going to take a lot more than training. I went through IPSO’s cases for the previous five years and found only one case of a breach of the code on intrusion into grief had been upheld – one in which the Daily Mail – yes, them again – had admitted responsibility.

One IPSO official shared that she had personally been bereaved and could supposedly therefore understand my situation. The Mail was not at fault. It was in fact my fault for being bereaved. I am sure she is a perfectly nice person, but what is she doing defending such a system? In a way, it’s worse to have nice people upholding this stuff.

No aspect of the clickbait allegation was dealt with – that the video and the way it was presented was meant to get people to increases the clicks on that story. I have since been to the shop who sold the CCTV to the Mail. I felt I had to. I said that I was not angry with them, but I wanted to let them know that, if they thought they were doing some good by selling it, that they had certainly not done that and had added to the distress of my daughter’s family.

I don’t want to be doing this, but if I don’t who will?  I can’t stop it having happened to us, but I can try and stop it happening to others. I am a journalist. We have a bad name, and sometimes rightly so. I want us to be better. It is in all of our interests to be better. I know it’s a drop in the ocean of all the problems with journalism today, but it is a drop in the ocean that I may be able to do something about.

Over the weekend, I read a report by the Communication and Media Research Institute at the University of Westminster about IPSO. It is entitled ‘How UK news publishers set up their own regulator to avoid scrutiny’. Unsurprisingly, it is very critical of IPSO and describes in detail how IPSO, set up in light of the Leveson Inquiry into press standards, came into being, how the key components of its framework were “produced by the industry in advance of Leveson’s report and retain industry influence over its own regulation” and how this is “compounded by the industry’s behaviour in acting as lobbyist and propagandist to further its own self-interest through the columns of its newspapers”.

It concludes: “Without major structural reform – as advocated by Leveson in his comprehensive rejection of the industry’s proposed plan – IPSO cannot be anything other than a body that is, as the second Calcutt Report eloquently described the Press Complaints Commission in 1993, ‘set up by the industry, financed by the industry, dominated by the industry, and operating a code of practice devised by the industry and which is overfavourable to the industry.’”

You might think is not the place to talk about these things. What does it have to do with being a working mum after all? Yet it is absolutely because I am a mum and because I am a journalist that I am doing it.  This last year has been the worst that a parent can go through. It is, fortunately, not something many parents have to go through, but there are more of us than you might think. As I said, it is not the thing that I want to be dealing with at the moment, but it is not something I will be dropping any time soon either.

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