21st July 2022
Intrusion into grief and the Impress Standards Code

Reporting on loss of life is one of the most delicate forms of journalism, one that calls for skilled and nuanced sensitivity from news providers.

More than simply documenting recent events, it’s important to carefully consider how reporting can impact the lives of those directly affected, including grieving family and friends.

A powerful new short film by campaign group Hacked Off has shone a light on the impact of press intrusion into grief by sharing stories from affected families across the country.  In the film, we meet a mother who was bombarded with relentless questions and sensationalised news coverage while grieving for her teenage daughter; we hear of an abusive father being misogynistically glorified in national press coverage; and we hear from a woman who was forced to relive the trauma of losing her daughter after national media published CCTV footage of the moments leading to her death.

Heather Teale, who lost her daughter Bethany in 2018, describes how she was pushed beyond her limit, and believes “eventually somebody will harm themselves because of [press intrusion], and it has to stop.”

Through these personal stories, the film highlights how damaging press intrusion into grief can be for members of the public, and how important it is that these stories are appropriately reported, out of respect to those directly involved and to ensure sensationalised reporting does not inspire copycat acts of violence or self-harm.

Privacy, grief & the Impress Standards Code

The Impress Standards Code offers clear guidance to journalists on how to responsibly report on loss of life and respect the privacy of individuals and their families.

Clause 7.2 of the Impress Standards Code says that publishers must “take all reasonable steps not to exacerbate grief or distress through intrusive newsgathering or reporting.”  The Code states that when reporting on loss, “journalists should be particularly careful to avoid making any approaches that may result in the harassment of a person who is suffering from grief or shock, or towards their friends, colleagues or wider families.” It also suggests that journalists should “be careful to avoid exacerbating such people’s grief or shock by publishing unnecessary or sensational details of an event.”

Close up of female psychologist holding hand of senior woman during therapy session

Impress also operates a whistleblowing hotline, run by Protect, which allows employees and contributors from the news industry to anonymously report concerns about editorial and ethical conduct in the newsroom, including those regarding intrusion into grief. In serious circumstances, where there is strong reason to believe that a regulated publication is committing serious and/or systemic code breaches, Impress also has the power to launch self-initiated investigations into a publication’s published material and reporting practices.

The Impress Standards Code and wider regulatory scheme have been designed to protect the public from press abuse, while supporting publishers to tell stories in an ethical and sensitive manner, with accountability, to help ensure stories like those highlighted in Hacked Off’s film are not repeated.

  • You can watch Hacked Off’s film, ‘The Press and the People’ here.
  • More information about the Impress Standards Code, including details on Clause 7 which addresses privacy and intrusion into grief, is available here. Guidance on the code, providing additional detail, is available here.
  • If you have questions regarding the Code, our regulatory scheme or are seeking support surrounding press intrusion into grief, speak to a member of our regulatory team by emailing info@impressreg.org.uk or calling 020 3325 4288.
  • Further advice and support for those experiencing grief is available from Samaritans and Cruse Bereavement Support.