Journalists who “behaved very badly” in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena terror attack last year are “highly unlikely” to have all been from foreign media organisations, Lord Bob Kerslake has said.
The Kerslake Report, released in March, found that the behaviour of some journalists “fell well short” of the Editors’ Code of Practice after the attack on 22 May, which killed 22 men, women and children.
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Reported behaviour included families being offered condolences on the deaths of victims by reporters at their doors before they had received official notification that they were among the fatalities.
In one such case a child was informed of her mother’s death by a journalist on the doorstep.
At the Etihad Stadium support centre, families had to run to their cars with coats over their heads to escape media crews, who were taking photos of people receiving news of bereavement through the glass windows, while a reporter tried to gain access to one family’s home by ramming a foot in their front door, the report said.
There had been some suggestion that, given such behaviour would be a serious breach of the ethics code to which the majority of newspapers adhere as members of the Independent Press Standards Organisation, it might have been more likely carried out by foreign journalists.
NMA chairman David Dinsmore said in a letter to Kerslake: “The extreme types of behaviour described would undoubtedly lead to disciplinary procedures and dismissal and is certainly not something that I recognise from newspaper employees, or indeed other UK media.”
Kerslake addressed his report’s claims in the House of Lords yesterday (pictured) as peers debated amendments to the Data Protection Bill relating to the press and backed by 252 votes to 213 a demand for Leveson Two.
He said: “I am in no doubt that a number of journalists, albeit a minority, did behave very badly towards these very vulnerable families. And it is highly unlikely that they were all from foreign media.”
Kerslake said no individual news organisations were named in his report because “neither we nor the families were in a position to confirm that when a journalist said they were from a particular publication this was indeed the case”.
He added: “The level of trauma experienced by these families, which they were still living with when I met them, meant that even if they were aware of the opportunity to complain to IPSO the reality is that it was very unlikely to happen.
“Their focus quite rightly was not on press intrusion but coping with family tragedy, something which consumed most if not all of their time and the energy available to them.”
He added: “It is important to say that a number of families spoke in praise of the sympathetic reporting, particularly by the Manchester Evening News but also by other papers local to the bereaved.
“But overall the panel were shocked and dismayed by these accounts.
“To have experienced such intrusive and overbearing behaviour at a time of such enormous vulnerability seemed to us to be completely unacceptable. By any measure these actions fall well short of the standards set out in Editors’ Code.”
Kerslake also criticised IPSO’s reaction to his report, saying that in contrast to Manchester Fire and Rescue Service and Vodafone each quickly offering apologies on the issues raised, “the response from IPSO and other representative organisations to our findings was very disappointing”.
IPSO announced its response today, in which it pledged to work with the Society of Editors and other organisations to hold a cross media round table meeting about the issues raised in Kerslake’s report.
It also said that some of the incidents described would constitute “grave breaches” of its standards code, but that it was “challenging to provide a rigorous investigative response” because no publications involved have been identified.
IPSO said it would develop a major incident plan that is automatically triggered after any event leading to mass casualties, produce new guidelines for editors and the public based on the current Editors’ Code covering reporting on major incidents, and provide more newsroom training and resources.
It will work with the National Council for the Training of Journalists to address the points raised in future journalism training, and with police bodies to ensure family liaison officers know how IPSO can help with potential press intrusion.
IPSO chair Sir Alan Moses said: “IPSO takes press harassment and breaches of privacy very seriously and I was extremely concerned to read the accounts of some of the families in the report.
“We are keen to investigate these cases if we can and I have written to Lord Kerslake asking if he has any information that would enable us to identify the media outlets concerned.
“Our action plan demonstrates the further steps we will take to protect families in this kind of situation in future.”
Picture: Parliament TV