Section 7: Privacy
Reporting Death, Suffering and 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, violence against individuals or war.
We will always need to consider carefully the editorial justification for portraying graphic material of human suffering and distress. When crews arriving at the scene of a disaster or emergency are under pressures that make it difficult to judge whether recording is an unjustified breach of privacy, they will often record as much material as possible. However, in such a situation, even more care must be taken to assess any privacy implications prior to broadcast. The demands of live output and speed in the use of pictures should not override consideration of the privacy of those suffering or in distress.
There are very few circumstances in which it is justified to broadcast the moment of death. 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 of those who are dead, suffering or in distress.
In the immediate aftermath of an event involving death, suffering or distress, the use of more graphic material is normally justified to provide a reasonable account of the full horror, although an evocative script is equally important in conveying the reality of tragedy and providing context for the material. However, as the story unfolds it may become more difficult to justify the continued use of such graphic material. Then when it comes to considering the story in a contemporary historical context or, for example, marking its anniversary, it may become editorially justified to use the material again.
We also need to consider the cumulative effect of the continued or repeated 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. When introducing scenes of extreme distress or suffering, a few brief words explaining the circumstances in which they were gathered may help to prevent misunderstandings and unnecessary offence.
We should normally only record at private funerals with the consent of the family. There must be a strong public interest if we decide to proceed against requests for privacy.
Revisiting Past Events
We must consider how to minimise any possible distress to surviving victims and relatives when we intend to examine past events which involved suffering and trauma. This applies even if the events or material to be used were once in the public domain. The way we achieve this will depend on, for example, the scale and location of the original incident and the time that has elapsed since it occurred. But so far as is reasonably practicable, surviving victims or the immediate families of the dead people who are to feature in the programme should normally be notified of our plans. We should proceed against any reasonable objections of those concerned only if they are outweighed by the public interest.