Reporting on deaths
Deaths can impact entire communities as well as the individual’s friends, family and colleagues. Although a very difficult and sad event for those directly impacted, the death of an individual can also be a legitimate matter of public interest which the media has a right to report on.
Members of the media should proceed sensitively and respect private grief and personal privacy, as per the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) Journalist Code of Ethics, which notes journalists have the right to resist compulsion to intrude.
- Any approaches to bereaved people, including friends and family, should be made with sympathy and discretion.
- Immediate family should not learn about the death of a loved one via the media.
Devaluing victims with disability
When reporting on a person with disability who is the victim or suspected victim of violence, abuse or neglect, the media must be careful not to devalue the victim by:
- downplaying the crime
- blaming the victim
- reducing the gravity of the crime by making assumptions about disability
- appearing to show sympathy or understanding for the alleged perpetrator
- presenting crimes as almost inevitable acts of opportunity due to the perceived vulnerability of the person with disability.
Reporting on inquests
An inquest is a court hearing in which the State Coroner gathers information to:
- assist in determining the cause and circumstances of death
- make recommendations that may prevent similar deaths occurring in the future.
Inquests are public events and the media plays an important information-sharing role – including clarifying facts about how a person died and sharing details and findings that may help to prevent other deaths in similar circumstances.
Families of the deceased should be approached sensitively. The media should consider that families may be incredibly distressed by the inquest itself and media reporting of it.
Families may not understand:
- that the media has a right to report on inquests and their findings
- the processes involved in an inquest.
Some questions to consider when reporting on a death, funeral or inquest
Source: Independent Press Standards Organisation
- Before approaching family members of a person who has died or using the name of a deceased person in a story, have you checked whether the immediate family is aware of the person’s death?
- Are you publishing any information that could lead to the identification of the person who has died before their immediate family has been informed?
- How reliable is the information you are using to identify the individual who has died? What steps have you taken to verify the information?
- Are you including graphic information at a time of grief?
- Are you mocking or sensationalising the individual or the manner of their death?
- Are you thinking of publishing photos that show the individual engaged in embarrassing activity?
- If you are considering attending a funeral, what type of event is it and what are the family’s wishes?
- Does the information you are thinking of publishing contain anything private about a living person?
- Have you considered the effect of your approaches and reporting on the family of the deceased?