'Survivors Against Terror' calls for new code for reporting attacks


A new report published by Survivors Against Terror has suggested the introduction of new rules to govern how journalists can report terror attacks.

The group, made up of survivors of terrorism and the families of victims say that the changes are necessary to prevent further distress being caused at a time when they themselves are trying to process and come to terms with what has happened.

The authors of the report, who include Brendan Cox, husband of the late Jo Cox MP, suggest that the new rules should cover matters such as:

  • The agreement of journalists not to contact the families of victims or those seriously injured in attacks, for at 48 hours immediately after the incident has occurred
  • A prohibition on using pictures of those killed or injured in attacks without the express permission of their families ahead of publication.
  • The formation of a new system for the confirmation of fatalities once their families have been informed.
  • Preventing members of the press from congregating outside the homes of victims; and
  • A ban on publishing pictures of those responsible for attacks, or for reporting on their manifestos and motives.

The events of recent weeks, including the tragic death of Sir David Amess MP gives the publication of this report even more impact, but some critics have questioned whether there are already sufficient regulations in place to prevent this sort of intrusion.

Professor Chris Frost, the chair of the NUJ ethics council said, “While the NUJ is sympathetic to the survivors’ concerns and certainly cannot condone the harassment of witnesses and the bereaved…it is important to cover fully such events and to do so sensitively and responsibly with the exercise of editorial judgment informed by the NUJ code of conduct.”

Though some of the recommendations suggest new concepts, such as the formation of a survivors’ hub to aid people involved in such incidents, several of the recommendations appear to cover matters already provided for by regulations, such as Clause 5 of the Editors’ Code of Conduct which provides for the prevention of intrusion into grief and shock.

There have been suggestions that the potential formation of this new code presents a threat to freedom of expression.

Whilst IPSO has said that it supports the report and has worked with Survivors Against Terror to provide information about what IPSO can do to support victims and families in the wake of a terror attack, it also said:

“While of course some of the situations described in the report are difficult and upsetting, it is very important that journalists are able to report on these events freely and in the public interest, in line with the standards set by the Editors’ Code of Practice.”

Supporters of the report argue that there is no desire to inhibit the freedom of expression, rather the aim is to ‘tweak’ it slightly to make it easier for families and survivors to navigate an “impossible situation”.

Speaking in support of the proposals, Brendan Cox said “whilst there are some great examples of responsible media reporting there are too many instances of media coverage casing deeper pain to survivors…The coverage of the recent murder of Sir David Amess MP was markedly different from previous attacks…We hope this is an early sign of media organisations thinking more deeply about how to cover such attacks.”

The opposition to the proposals that has already appeared tends to suggest that it is unlikely that a new code will materialise any time soon, especially as the report only contains suggestions and recommendations.

Is this the start of yet further demand for press regulation? Only time will tell.

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