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January 5, 2018updated 08 Jan 2018 10:36am

Speaking to media can be ‘distressing’ and ‘daunting’ – public should consider using lawyer or PR company, government guidance says

By John Reynolds

Dealing with the media can be a “distressing” and “daunting” experience and the public need to “exercise caution” and should consider using a lawyer or public relations agency on sensitive matters, according to new government guidance.

Entitled “handling media attention after a major incident”, the guidance was published on the Home Office and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport websites yesterday.

The guidance was released in the wake of terrorist incidents which the government said had left victims feeling “overwhelmed”.

One national newspaper journalist said the guidance amounted to advising the public “don’t speak to the media” and hire a PR company instead.

The wide-ranging guidance offers advice on the benefits and downside of speaking to the media as well as advice if individuals are being pressured or harassed by the media.

The guidance kicks off with a warning to the public about dealing  with journalists.

It says: “Dealing with the media can sometimes be distressing and daunting. It is your decision whether or not to speak to journalists. While it may not feel like it, you are in control of his. Remember if you do not want to, you do not have to.”

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If a member of the public is speaking on a sensitive matter, the guidance says that the public “might wish to consider seeking the advice of a lawyer” as well as flagging up that a public relations agency could be used.

It adds: “There are public relations agencies that specialist in managing relationships with the media, although these can be expensive. While we cannot recommend a particular agency, you could seek advice from the Chartered Institute for Public Relations or the PR Consultants Association.”

Guidance is also offered on what to do if members of the public are being pressured or harassed by media, including an explanation of IPSO’s Editors’ Code of Practice and details of IPSO’S 24-hour emergency hotline.

While the guidance offers details of the remit of IPSO, which most newspaper have signed up to, the only details it discloses about Impress, the state-approved press regulator, is its address and a link to its website.

Times writer David Brown wrote on Twitter: “When we were reporting the awful disaster at Grenfell Tower the survivors and families of missing were desperate to speak with journalists. Many were highly critical of the authorities who are now seem to be advising them not to speak to the media.”

A government spokesperson said: “Following major incidents, including last year’s terror attacks, some victims and witnesses have reported feeling overwhelmed with the level of media interest and have sought advice on how to respond.

“The cross-Government Victims of Terrorism Unit worked closely with the police family liaison teams, Local Authorities, and with a number of third sector support organisations to produce this guidance.

“It aims to help those who experience such horrific events to understand and navigate the press and media attention they may receive, and to engage with them positively if they choose to do so.”

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