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16 October 2014
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Reporting suffering & distress

We must always balance the public interest in full and accurate reporting against the need to be compassionate and to avoid any unjustified infringement of privacy when we report accidents, disasters, disturbances or war.

We will always need to consider carefully the editorial justification for portraying graphic material of human suffering and distress. There are almost no circumstances in which it is justified to show executions and very few circumstances in which it is justified to broadcast other scenes in which people are being killed. It is always important to respect the privacy and dignity of the dead. We should never show them gratuitously. We should also avoid the gratuitous use of close ups of faces and serious injuries or other violent material.

The passage of time is an important factor when it comes to making difficult judgements about the broadcasting of graphic material. In the immediate aftermath of an event the use of more graphic material is normally justified to provide a reasonable illustration of the full horror, although a good script is equally important in conveying the reality of tragedy. However, as the story unfolds it may become more difficult to justify its continued use. Then when it comes to marking the anniversary of an event or when considering it in a contemporary historical context, it may again be editorially justified to re-use it.

We also need to consider the cumulative effect of the use of graphic material on our continuous news channels.

We should normally request interviews with people who are injured or grieving following an accident or disaster by approaching them through friends, relatives or advisers. We should not:

  • put them under pressure to provide interviews.
  • harass them with repeated phone calls, emails, text messages or knocks at the door.
  • stay on their property if asked to leave.
  • normally follow them if they move on.

However, it is important that we do not inadvertently censor our reporting. For example, public expressions of grief and the extent to which it is regarded as an intrusion into someone's private life to show them, vary around the world. There are two key considerations when judging what to broadcast, the people we record and our audience. Graphic scenes of grief are unlikely to offend or distress those victims and relatives who consented to our recording them, but they may upset or anger some of our audience. A few words of explanation when introducing scenes of extreme distress or suffering may help to prevent misunderstandings.

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Section Six of the Editorial Guidelines - pdf

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