Thursday 19 January 2012

NUJ confirms it wants ombudsman to replace PCC

The NUJ has confirmed it will tell the Leveson Inquiry that it wants a press ombudsman system to replace the Press Complaints Commission.

NUJ Irish secretary Séamus Dooley confirmed the union is in favour of the creation of the post of ombudsman as part of a new regulatory system to replace the PCC in his response to a charity for relatives of murder victims - Support After Murder and Manslaughter Northern Ireland - which has called for the appointment of an ombudsman to help relatives aggrieved by media coverage.

An ombudsman system was introduced in the Republic of Ireland four years ago.

Dooley said of Leveson: "The current inquiry represents an opportunity to see how we can improve and how journalism can become more accountable. We fully support the concept of a Press ombudsman based on the model which has proved so successful in the Republic of Ireland. We do not believe that the current PCC model is capable of reform.

"A new regulatory body and the creation of an Office of Press Ombudsman is something we are exploring and we will be giving evidence on this point to Lord Leveson. We do not at this stage see the need for a separate ombudsman for Northern Ireland. Part of the work of the new ombudsman would be to draw up new guidelines and to work with the media and civic society – that might include guidelines on the type of issues raised. We would welcome the opportunity to meet SAMM NI and will be in contacting the organisation in the coming weeks."

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet will present the union’s proposal for a press ombudsman to the Leveson Inquiry.

Dooley in response to a report by SAMM NI said: “Journalists covering murder and manslaughter should always treat relatives, friends and colleagues with sensitivity. Throughout the Troubles reporters, photographers and editors have tried to demonstrate care and compassion in extremely harrowing circumstances.

"Certainly there may have been lapses of judgment but for NUJ members working on the ground covering the Troubles represented a daily challenge to act in the public interest while respecting the privacy of individuals. "

In a new report, SAMM NI is calling for a new code of conduct that would see journalists:
  • Recognise a family's fears that speaking to the media might prejudice a legal case.
  • Refrain from intrusion at funerals, or "door stepping" family members for information or interviews.
  • Be honest and not mislead anyone in pursuit of an interview with a family member.
  • Acknowledge it is not appropriate to attempt direct contact with families, but to use the official intermediaries, such as police family liaison officers.
  • Refrain from publishing unsubstantiated rumour and stick to known facts.
  • Ensure families have an opportunity before publication to satisfy themselves with the factual accuracy of stories, without prejudice to the editorial independence of the publication.
  • Seek approval for the use of all photography relating to the loved one and the circumstances of their death.
  • Not publish distressing photographs, such as the removal of a loved one's remains in a body bag.
  • Warn families if there is an intention to run stories or photography relating to the death of their loved one, weeks, months and years later.

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