Madeleine Moon - Member of Parliament for Bridgend
The relationship between MPs and the media is not always one of harmony and ease. MPs are protective of their constituencies and are alert to any negative press coverage of events there. As an MP you dread the thought of a disaster hitting the area you know so intimately.
From experience I can say that the best insurance policy to have is the telephone number of the Press Complaints Commission. When disaster strikes and the media circus comes to town an impartial referee to help control the show is essential.
I found the PCC advice, support and guidance invaluable. Its staff helped weather the torrent of stories which varied from the inaccurate to the hurtful and distressing.
I have told colleagues that the PCC can support local families involved in stories when at their most vulnerable, and help protect them from some of the most excessive media practices.
They can help the local authority, police, fire and ambulance services to cope with myriad requests for interviews and statements.
Most importantly they are there to remind a media desperate for a new angle or an exclusive of the standards they must adhere to.
Once the story begins to die the media move on, but the PCC will help pick up the pieces. Public meetings and reflecting on and examining lessons learned are just part of the services available.
There is also the longer-term support available. Families can be contacted months and years later, just as wounds are beginning to heal, and asked to sell their story. For many this brings back memories of trauma and distress. The PCC can help here too.
I speak from experience. If disaster strikes and the media circus comes to town, contact the PCC and use their toolkit of help and support.
Many MPs refer their constituents to the PCC when they have concerns relating to articles which have been, or are likely to be, published in newspapers and magazines. MPs have acknowledged that the PCC is a free and public service which is of value to those they serve. In November 2010 the PCC held a Parliamentary Reception in the Palace of Westminster for MPs and Peers, to help further foster our working relationship with those in Parliament. Over 150 accepted our invitation to attend.
Madeleine Moon offers a personal perspective of how the PCC can become a vital tool for MPs facing tragedy in their constituency. The PCC has worked closely with Madeleine and the newspaper and magazine industry both to help individual families in Bridgend, and to ensure responsible reporting of suicides more generally. We continue to assist and advise in this crucial area and liaise with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Suicide and Self Harm Prevention.
‒ Press Complaints Commission
Gill Shearer - Head of Marketing and Communications, Cumbria Police
The Press Complaints Commission has a crucial role in supporting members of the public dealing with the media at times of significant emotional distress such as the West Cumbria shootings in June 2010.
The PCC initially approached Cumbria Constabulary on 2nd June - the day of the shootings. However, it took a few days to establish a process where the necessary level of information was being passed from the communities, via the police, to make formal complaints. Feelings of intrusion were caused by a range of different media outlets at varying times, which further increased the distress to the families.
Since the shootings we have worked pro-actively with the PCC and the affected families to ensure the media knows which of the families do not want to be contacted by the journalists. To date this has worked well and has removed some of the distress that the families have felt when approached directly by the media.
Our work with the PCC will continue as we approach key times such as the first anniversary.
The impact and pressure of the media on the families and the communities of West Cumbria was completely overwhelming for many, and understandably so. In such high-profile situations I would urge the public - and organisations which represent the public - to make early contact with the PCC to help in trying to balance the right of journalists to report and the right of the shocked and the bereaved to avoid intrusion.
Perspectives such as this from Cumbria Police really help to demonstrate the reality of what can sometimes happen when a major news story breaks. We regularly speak to ordinary people at the centre of media stories, and understand the concerns that people have around being approached by journalists. In the past few years, we have doubled our efforts to ensure that people who may be feeling vulnerable as a result of their involvement in a newsworthy incident know how to contact us.
Although we can approach people directly, usually we will make contact via an intermediary such as the relevant police force. It follows that one of our most important ongoing initiatives is to maintain good contact with the police throughout the UK (as well as court services and those involved in bereavement support) to ensure that, if they are approached by someone for advice, they know how the PCC can help if they do not wish to speak (though, of course, many people do).
We have recently undertaken major revisions to our advice on dealing with media attention following a death. We hope this will enable us to explain better some of the practical implications of losing a loved one. Copies will be disseminated widely throughout the UK and you can also read the new text on our website.
‒ Press Complaints Commission
Lucy McGee - Director of Communications, West London Mental Health NHS Trust
It's impossible to underestimate the evocative power of the word 'Broadmoor' for the British public. It's loaded with symbolism and packs a powerful frisson. It pops up on Google as a metaphor for evil almost as often as it does described (wrongly) as a prison. The man in the street could grow old without learning that Broadmoor Hospital is respected globally as a leader in the treatment and research of serious and complex mental health problems.
Challenging inaccurate or unfair reporting in the media is an aspect of the PCC's role that we've valued. It has helped us secure redress many times for thoughtless, misinformed or sloppy coverage about Broadmoor Hospital and mental illness in general, and even for downright bigotry. PCC advice is always prompt, balanced and pragmatic.
More than this, what's characterised the partnership that we at West London Mental Health Trust have experienced is proactivity. Recognising that language is just a symptom, the PCC has supported us in the long game of anti-stigma, too: educating journalists about the facts of mental health and the institutions that treat it.
This matters because the young men who come to us at Broadmoor Hospital are not new to psychiatric ill-health. Their usually already difficult lives have been complicated by it for years. But the shame and stigma attached to mental illness (exacerbated by ill-informed, or, worse, discriminatory representation of it in the media) have prevented them from seeking help, locking them in a terrible trajectory towards personal disaster
Through mediation, promotion of best practice, helpful introductions and informative seminars, the PCC tries to show that fidelity to press freedom doesn't have to mean infringing someone else's, and nor does the complex truth about mental health make for a less compelling story.
Some institutions are likely to be the subject of considerable media attention on a regular basis. High-secure Broadmoor Hospital is one example and it is perhaps unsurprising that it has developed a close working relationship with the PCC, especially in recent times, as it seeks to tackle reporting that is inaccurate or misleading. By working with the PCC to resolve complaints amicably and without rancour, Broadmoor Hospital - like other newsworthy organisations - has been able to raise levels of understanding about its work.
Reporting of mental illness is a subject on which the PCC has focused heavily over the last few years and it is an area of reporting which has arguably seen a significant improvement as a consequence. In 2010, we co-hosted with Shift and the Royal College of Psychiatrists a hugely successfulevent, at which we brought together mental health professionals and media representatives to discuss a range of sensitive issues. You can read more about the event here. The PCC's guidance on reporting mental health issues can be seen here.
‒ Press Complaints Commission
Nicola Peckett - Head of Communications, Samaritans
The support that the PCC provides Samaritans is hugely helpful in our work to ensure responsible reporting of suicide.
It has long been known that publishing excessive detail about the method of suicide can encourage others to emulate the suicide in what is known as a copycat death. Samaritans' aim is to work with the media to prevent coverage which could be harmful to vulnerable individuals.
Samaritans reviews more than 3000 articles about suicide each year, and we understand that there is a fi ne line between working constructively with the media and being seen as trying to restrict press freedom.
Our relationship with the PCC means that we can pick up the phone to them on an informal basis and seek guidance on the best way to work with the press. PCC staff will always answer honestly, so we can avoid taking forward unnecessary complaints.
We value the experience the PCC has in dealing with complaints against newspapers, because it gives us access to their excellent judgement and sound advice.
The work done by the PCC in the area of suicide reporting has been well-documented over recent years and we are proud of the improvements there have been in the way that newspapers and magazines cover such tragedies. Our close work with Samaritans is a very good example of the way in which the PCC carries out its wider standards role, for only a small portion of our relationship is about dealing with concrete complaints. The more significant part is about facilitating a constructive dialogue between an expert organisation (Samaritans) and key editorialexecutives.
There is no doubt that the press has taken on board the important message about the potential impact on vulnerable people of excessively detailed reporting about suicide. Editors regularly contact the PCC for advice on this topic and have displayed an eagerness to discuss the subject at seminars.
‒ Press Complaints Commission