Newspapers criticised for reports on disasters

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The Independent Online
BEREAVED relatives and survivors of disasters should be guaranteed privacy from intrusive reporting, according to a study of the aftermath of the Hillsborough football stadium tragedy.

The researchers, who are to give evidence today to an all-party parliamentary committee hearing into inaccurate reporting, say that the distress of survivors and relatives was made worse by the the way the disaster was covered.

People affected by such events have a right to protection from additional suffering caused by the publication of explicit photographs and descriptions and by intrusive journalism, according to Professor Phil Scraton and Ann Jemphrey, from the Centre for Studies in Crime and Social Justice at Ormskirk, Lancashire.

In a written submission to the committee, which is gathering information for the Freedom and Responsibility of the Press Bill, sponsored by the Labour MP Clive Soley, they also recommend a statutory right of reply and a system of financial compensation for victims of inaccurate reporting.

The study finds that early stories on Hillsborough allocated blame to Liverpool fans by reporting, inaccurately, that they had surged forward and broken a gate.

References to hooliganism, drunkenness and violence dominated immediate coverage. The bereaved and the survivors had to establish the 'innocence' of their loved ones or themselves.

The researchers condemn the conduct of sections of the media, giving the example of a reporter who lied to a boy's grandmother to obtain a photograph that had been withheld by his parents.

The study says photographs of the dead and of identifiable individuals in distress, pain or fear should not be published.

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