Dealing with media interest in acquired brain injury
This section offers advice for families who might be contacted by reporters from media outlets. There is also advice on making a complaint against a media organisation.Cases of acquired brain injury in children sometimes attract the attention of the media, both local and national. The circumstances of an accident, legal compensation awarded, or the progress of a child’s recovery may all be points of interest for news organisations. For some families, it can be a difficult decision as to whether or not to be interviewed by reporters at what’s often a tough and emotional time.1 Media interest may seem intrusive to some families, while for others it’s an opportunity to talk through their experience. Some people say they take comfort in sharing their story with others. It’s important to mention that medical staff may sometimes be involved in this kind of decision. Staff at a hospital may advise against inviting media attention if a child isn’t yet up to it.2 Whatever you decide is right for your family, we’ve included some key points and guidance for dealing with the media.
If you’re unsureThen be honest in saying so. If you’re approached by a reporter, ask for some time to think it over, and say you’ll get back to them when you’ve made up your mind. It is against the guidance given to reporters to make repeated calls to try to persuade you.3 See below for our section on making a complaint.
It can be a shock receiving a phone call from a reporter or researcher if you haven’t dealt with the media before.
They may knock on your door, or speak to your neighbours or friends of the family. It may be worth speaking with your neighbours first if you’d rather not share any details.
The media doesn’t have the best reputation, but the majority of reporters will listen if you explain that you’d rather not speak to them.
Perhaps you’re having a tough time, and you’d like to make this clear to a reporter to explain why you don’t want to be involved in a story.
If you are concerned about anything you say being taken down and printed, there is a simple sentence that can help you – “I’d like this conversation to be off the record”.
By saying this before you start talking to a reporter, you are making it clear that the information is for background only and is not for publication.
If you decide you’d rather maintain your privacy
The body that regulates the way media organisations behave is called the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).
It has an Editors’ Code of Practice reporters are expected to stick to.3
Radio and television reporters are expected to keep to the same standards and are regulated by Ofcom.
The PCC Code of Conduct states that: “Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual’s private life without consent.”
It also says: “[Journalists] must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on their property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.”
Put simply, no means no. If you have trouble with harassment, then you are entitled to file a complaint with the Independent Press Standards Organisation (see below).
If you are approached at a difficult time, such as immediately after a diagnosis or an accident:
The code states that: “In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively.”
Again, if you feel this hasn’t been the case, you are entitled to make a complaint (see below).
If you have a complaint
The Press Complaints Commission takes a dim view of intrusion into children’s lives.
The Code of Practice states that children and young people should be free to complete their time at school without being bothered.
It also states that: “A child under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child’s welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.”
And that: “Pupils must not be approached or photographed at school without the permission of the school authorities.”
Most schools and colleges will have a media policy that forbids any photographs being taken of children unless they have been given explicit permission from parents.
Speak with your school about its media policy if you are concerned.
But where does my child stand in all this?
Many parents like to raise awareness about acquired brain injury by talking about their circumstances.
Some use the opportunity as a platform for fundraising, while others feel better for sharing their story, which may in turn be of benefit to those in similar situations.
There is no right or wrong in these situations, only what suits individual families.
But try to remember the following from the PCC Code of Conduct:
“Enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively.”
If you’re unhappy with the way the story has been reported, then you should write first to the editor of the paper.
If you feel you have grounds to take your complaint further, you should write to the Press Complaints Commission.
If you are happy to speak with reporters
If you are pursuing a compensation claim related to your child’s acquired brain injury, or there are criminal proceedings related to the injury, the case may reach court.
You may see reporters at the court – this is standard practice for newspapers and media outlets.
Civil cases – seeking compensationThere is no automatic ban on publishing details of the proceedings. Section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act gives courts the power to impose a ban.4 But this ban will only be used in specific situations and its use is rare. The effect of this is that some parents may find their children identified in the media. Naturally, this may invite calls from reporters. But again, you are under no obligation to speak to them if you don’t want to. Compensation cases may be distressing because of the way papers can sensationalise large ‘payouts’. They may not necessarily appreciate the cost and demands of care over an individual’s lifetime. If you are unhappy about the way a story has been reported, you can complain through the PCC. But it may be worth writing to the editor first – most editors will be happy to set the record straight. And a good editor will invite you to share your story with the paper for a subsequent edition.
Criminal proceedingsYour child may be a victim in a criminal case. Again, the court has the power to impose a section 39 order, which bans the reporting of anything which may identify your child. But the guidance is that the court must have a good reason for imposing this kind of ban.
You can make a complaint by filling in this form.
You can find out more about the Independent Press Standards Organisation and the complaints process at www.ipso.co.uk
Radio and television journalists, often referred to as broadcast journalists, are regulated by Ofcom.
Making a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission
Their website carries this message: “The broadcasters and the broadcasting news organisations have agreed with the Press Complaints Commission that in a situation where an individual feels harassed because large numbers of print and broadcast journalists have congregated to cover a news story, the following emergency number: 07659 152 656 (which operates 24 hours a day) can be used by a person affected to notify the relevant organisations of their concern.”5