Terrorist attack survivors call for new media code to protect relatives

Figen Murray spoke to Granada Reports presenter Gamal Fahnbulleh.

A group of terrorist attack survivors have come together to call for what they describe as an end to ‘endemic’ media intrusion.

Following a two year study for the group 'Survivors against Terror', a report recommends a series of new measures for the media to protect survivors and prevent future attacks. 

Figen Murray is part of the Survivors against Terror Group and has been just completed a Counter Terrorism degree

Figen Murray, the mother of Martyn Hett who was killed in the Manchester Arena bombing has joined forces with Brendan Cox - the widower of the murdered MP Jo Cox and Darryn Frost, who helped fight off the Fishmonger’s Hall attacker using a narwhal tusk.

They have shared their own experiences of the media, both negative and positive along with more than a hundred other survivors who gave their accounts too.

Daves Ames who was stabbed to death in his constituency office

The report – written before the murder of David Amess MP - reveals worrying levels of media intrusion and harassment.

59% of survivors of attacks had personally experienced intrusion with most of that happening within the first 48 hours of an attack, when the survivors felt most vulnerable.

The report, which contains the findings of surveys of 116 survivors conducted by Kantar, focuses on traditional media, with a further report to follow on social media and its impacts on survivors.

What did the report find:

 1.     Pressure and pester, one survivor said; “(They) blocked my street, followed me to school, misquoted and harassed my neighbours”

 2.     Misrepresentation such as: “Various journalists called my workplace. One physically came to my work and asked for me, pretending to be a customer, and then barraged me with questions.”

 3.     Invasion of privacy such as: “They took photos from my husband’s Facebook without permission and printed the photos in the paper like they had done an interview with him. It was truly disgusting... It has taken 2 years for the media to finally leave us alone.”

 4.     Telling families such as: “The press reported a family member was alive when in fact they had died on the day of the terrorist attack giving us all false hope.”

Survivors said the impact of this intrusion was profound with many saying it increased their anxiety, made them feel unsafe and stopped them leaving their houses. 

Figen Murray giving evidence at the Manchester Arena Inquiry

Figen Murray said: "We all understand the public interest in terror attacks, but the public would be shocked by the pressure grieving families are being put under.

“In my case my 16-year-old daughter was told by a journalist about my son’s death before we even knew as a family. Something has to change.”

Tributes in Manchester after the Arena Bomb attack in May 2017

Around half of those surveyed asked for help at the time to help stop the intrusion, though none were aware of the formal channels open to them and instead were often reliant on friends, family or the Police for advice.

Alongside the negatives, 55% of survivors said they had also had at least some positive examples of working with the media. 

The survey also asked about survivor’s views of the nature of media reporting on terrorism more broadly:

  • 90% support reducing the focus on the terrorist’s names and identities

  • More than 80% say videos made by terrorists should never be shown even in part

  • 98% agree that terrorist ‘manifestos’ should not be a high-profile part of media coverage.

Brendan Cox with his wife Jo Cox who was murdered in her constituency

Brendan Cox said “Reporting on terror attacks is clearly in the public interest. What isn’t in the public interest is routine intrusion, spreading fear and sharing terrorist propaganda.

“While there are some great examples of responsible media reporting there are too many instances of media coverage causing deeper pain to survivors while furthering the aims of the terrorists by amplifying their hatred.

“The coverage of the recent murder of Sir David Amess MP was markedly different from the previous attacks, with much less profile given to the alleged attacker.

“We hope that this is an early sign of media organisations thinking more deeply about how to cover such attacks.”

The report contains six key recommendations: 

1.     A voluntary agreement not to directly contact the bereaved and seriously injured for at least the first 48 hours following an attack. 

2.     No pictures should be used of the bereaved or seriously injured without family permission. There should be no use of pictures of family homes and no congregation outside the houses of the injured and bereaved. 

3.     The creation of a Survivors’ Support Hub to provide independent information and support to survivors of terror attacks.  

4.     In cases of malicious breaches, the Police (or a newly created Survivors Support Hub) should publicly name those outlets and exclude them from any arranged press briefings or interviews. 

5.     The creation of a new system to confirm fatalities once families have been informed and have been able to tell their loved ones. News outlets should agree not to report on their names until it is confirmed that loved ones have been informed. 

6.     IPSO, IMPRESS and OFCOM to agree and publish new guidance (including the above recommendations) that can then be incorporated by all media outlets. Editors need to be clear that there is a zero-tolerance approach to breaches.

In addition, in their reporting survivors would encourage media organisations to:

  • Stop sharing detailed accounts of injuries, methods or gruesome imagery.

  • Reduce the naming of the terrorists as much as possible.

  • Stop reproducing photos of the terrorists.

  • Not share manifestos or videos made by terrorists. 

Darryn Frost, who helped fight off the Fishmonger’s Hall attacker using a narwhal tusk said: “When repeatedly sharing the names and faces of terrorists we unwittingly play into their hands, helping them gain notoriety while simultaneously spreading fear, hate and division.

“My greatest wish is that we all deny them the infamy they seek."

Figen Murray has spoken to senior journalists at ITV Granada and ITV News to share her experience of talking to the media about the Arena Terrorist attack.

Figen wanted more support for families to choose the photographs to be used by media organisations when talking about their loved ones.

This was also one of the recommendations of the Kerslake Report into the terrorist attack, which called for more training of Press Liaison Officers, who are usually the official channel providing support to families.

Sir Bob Kerslake's report made a number of recommendations in March 2018 following the Arena attack

The Kerslake Report, published in March 2018  said intrusive and overbearing media behaviour had resulted in 'most' families of those killed and injured in the attack on 22 May, 2017, having negative media experiences.

The report recommended that the press watchdog the Independent Press Standards Organisation review its code and consider developing specific media guidelines for such an attack.

Some of the behaviour from journalists covering the Manchester attack 'fell well short' of the Editors’ Code of Practice, the report found, adding this “cannot be as good as it gets”.

There were at least two cases of impersonation, including one family member talking on the phone to someone claiming to be a bereavement nurse.

One respondent to the review described a reporter attempting to gain access through their front door by ramming a foot in the way.

The report failed to identify any of the organisations who carried out 'unscrupulous' practice, with many broadcasters and media organisations believing this was a 'missed opportunity' to tackle the issue.

The report said: “The panel was shocked and dismayed by the accounts of the families of their experience with some of the media, although others have reported a positive experience of their dealings with journalists".

Families were also upset to see photos being taken from social media, inaccurate details such as a wrongly spelled name, and international media using an image taken inside the arena foyer in which the deceased could be identified.

Lord Bob Kerslake also advised giving police family liaison officers more training to improve how they handle media contact with families, alongside collaborative working with IPSO.