Bereavement due to traumatic death

Media involvement

Often the media take an interest in what has happened; local papers often cover road mayhem, while murders, and especially terrorist attacks, are likely to attract national interest. People we talked to had had varying experiences with different sections of the media and offered advice about how to cope with media interest in the days and months after the death.
A paper may want to send a photographer to the funeral. Families may not want press photographers there but one family was pleased to be sent copies of the funeral photos taken by a journalist. Attitudes to press coverage may differ within the family. Some family members may be disappointed if the press does not mention their bereavement. One woman was surprised that her children cut out every article and put them in a scrap book. Differing opinions in the family about press involvement can cause tensions.
The media can be important in the investigation, for example in appealing for witnesses. Some people bereaved by a traumatic death want to campaign to bring attention to the cause of the death and know that the media can help them. Godfrey wanted to publicise safety issues on railway platforms.
Martin was vaguely aware of a flurry of press interest in his wife’s death but it hardly affected him – he was too busy trying to cope and support his children.
Some people were advised to prepare a statement for the media to discourage them from becoming intrusive. If they did not give the media a quote the reporters would ask neighbours or colleagues to comment, risking inaccuracies. Adam’s father read a statement to the press after the court case, relieving the rest of the family from the need to answer questions. Adam thought that the press were generally OK after the case.
The police family liaison officers can help and advise families on how to deal with the media and when appropriate may introduce people to the police Press Officer, who can advise people before they speak to the media. A police Press Officer or senior Investigating Officer could read a statement on someone’s behalf.
After a disaster such as the Bali bombing, bereaved relatives may also appoint a spokesperson on their behalf.  
In some circumstances, such as when there are police investigations, the police may ask people not to speak directly to the media and to leave all media involvement to them. This happened after Karen’s mother died in a fire (see Karen’s account in ‘The Police Liaison Officer’s role). In such cases it is important for family members to understand this.
Susanna found much variation in the behaviour of journalists: many were extraordinarily supportive and understanding after her brother died in the Bali bombing but some asked bizarre and insensitive questions. William commented on patchy relations with the local press – some were very good, others intrusive. Carole described the press as behaving like ‘vultures’; journalists had written sensationalised accounts of her son’s murder.
Recently bereaved people can be very upset by misleading press reports – especially if articles imply that the deceased was to some extent responsible for the death. Ian was upset that the newspaper misspelt his brother’s name.
Some people were cynical about the tendency of newspapers to illustrate articles with photos of pretty young women. Rosemary felt it intrusive of reporters to photograph her grieving niece.
Matthew criticised the biased approach of the media. He found that journalists only wanted to write about grieving relatives who wanted revenge on the terrorists. Relatives who believed that executing the terrorists could compound the problem by making them martyrs were not often written about.
Occasionally there are more objections to press behaviour. It may be possible to persuade a newspaper editor to withdraw a comment or to print an apology. Elizabeth complained when a paper printed a picture of a pretty girl sending a text message next to an article about her daughter Marni’s accident. To Elizabeth this suggested that Marni was responsible for her accident and complained. A very small apology was printed deep inside the paper.
Complaints can be made to the Press Complaints Commission.

Last reviewed May 2019.

Last updated October 2011.


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