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EXAMPLES OF SUCCESSFUL ANTI-HARASSMENT AND PRE-PUBLICATION WORK

In recent years, the PCC has developed into much more than just a complaints-handling body. We now do a considerable amount of work at an early stage, which aims to prevent the need for a formal complaint to be made later on. The examples below should illustrate the different ways this works in practice.

For more detailed information about the services, including contact details, please click on the hyperlinks in the headings.

Preventing harassment and protecting the vulnerable

In cases where someone is in a particularly vulnerable state and does not wish to speak to a journalist, we can help by sending out a message to editors making clear that the person does not wish to speak, before any such approach is made.

For example, in 2007, the PCC worked with Cheshire Police to assist the family of Garry Newlove, who had been murdered outside his home in Warrington. The family was concerned about media attention in the run up to the trial of five youths accused of his murder, and came to the PCC for help.

The PCC circulated a statement from the family to editors, managing editors and lawyers, which asked the media not to contact them in any way, either in the run-up to the trial or during it, or afterwards. The family explained that previous contact from journalists had been intrusive and made them feel harassed.

As a result of the PCC's work, the family did not experience any contact, or indeed harassment, from the press. Jacqui Hanson, the Deputy Head of Corporate Communications for Cheshire Police, said:

"The media came to Warrington in large numbers to report on the story, and public interest in the case remained high from the time of Garry's death through to the sentencing of the offenders. This close family unit had been traumatised at the loss of Garry and wanted to be left alone to grieve.

While the majority of journalists honoured the request relayed via the Police Press Office, the family continued to receive approaches. This caused them distress as they felt unable to make any comment at this time.

At this point, we approached the PCC. A Desist Notice was quickly issued and, at the same time, we offered media organisations our own Press Desk as a point of contact for any interview requests with the family.

The Desist Notice was hugely successful. The family did not receive a single direct approach. Even after the verdict, the media continued to honour the spirit of the request and made approaches for further interviews via the Police, until seven months later when Mrs Newlove was ready to receive and respond to requests directly.

The Desist Notice gave a distraught family the opportunity to grieve in private and find the time they needed to come to terms with their situation. From that has come a voice - in Helen Newlove and her daughters - which has captured the thoughts and feelings of a huge section of society".

In another case, the PCC was contacted by the family of a man who had taken his own life. The family was concerned that the forthcoming inquest into the death would prompt contact from journalists at a time when they were still grieving and did not wish to speak.

The PCC disseminated a message from the man's mother to relevant editors not to contact the family. The request was respected, and the family was not contacted by any journalist. In a note of thanks to the PCC, she said:

"I am extremely grateful to you for your help. Despite details of the inquest into x's death being published in all of our local papers, we were not approached by any journalists and I feel that this is due to your help."

Preventing harassment

Sometimes situations arise in which individuals find themselves thrown into the media spotlight, often with very little preparation. This might occur if there has been a tragedy, for example, after which the press might ask the friends and family of someone who has died for a comment; or if a story is particularly newsworthy.

Under the terms of the Code of Practice, journalists are entitled to approach an individual once but they must do so sensitively and must not return if are then asked to leave. In cases of media harassment, the PCC can help by sending out a notice to the industry that journalists desist in their approaches immediately.

One example of someone who used this service was a woman who was at the centre of an ongoing news story about a family dispute. She did not want to comment, and as the story progressed, she used the PCC three times to inform the press that in spite of new claims, she remained unwilling to speak. The result of this intervention was that she was not contacted by individual journalists, and did not experience a media scrum outside her front door. She said:

"Your service was outstanding and beyond the call of duty answering late night and weekend calls, dealing with me immediately and returning every promised call. I don't know how I would have coped without you".

In a case this time involving someone in the public eye, we liaised with Chris Tarrant's manager to minimise the heavy media attention on Mr. Tarrant's wife following their separation. She was feeling harassed by the large number of journalists who had set up outside her house. The PCC sent out a desist message on her behalf explaining that she did not wish to speak. Very shortly afterwards, the media began to disperse.

Mr Tarrant's manager noted that the whole family "have good reason to be inordinately grateful to the PCC. We could not have asked for a more proactive or urgent response".

Preventative pre-publication work

The PCC can help to resolve issues with a story that might arise prior to it being published. Although we do not have formal powers to prevent publication, we can work with the individual and publication involved to try to sort out any potential problems.

In many cases, stories do not appear thanks to these discussions. Just a few examples of where stories have been published, or have been handled in a different way thanks to the PCC's intervention, include:

  • A national newspaper intended to publish a story about a practising dentist who was infected with HIV and Hepatitis C. The individual made clear that he was following established protocol as to how such a situation should be handled, and that there was no public interest in the wider dissemination of details of his illness.
  • A soap star was pregnant, and did not wish this to be made public before her 12-week scan. Following the circulation of a desist notice to editors by the PCC, this information did not make it into print.
  • A political figure contacted the PCC with concerns about allegations relating to his behaviour before he took up a new role. Through the PCC, he highlighted the inaccuracies in the proposed story. While the newspaper did publish a story, it was notable that it did not include some of the allegations that he had denied.
 
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