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7 top tips to prevent unwanted journalists

1st September 2020 - Jonathan Harris

Suddenly finding yourself in the media spotlight can be extremely distressing. For high profile individuals, how you manage this attention is vital. If you find yourself in such a situation, these seven tips will help you to navigate this new challenge and ensure your reputation is protected.

1. Door-stepping: Know your rights

Remember, you do not have to answer the door.

Journalists will know that there are guidelines to follow and that door stepping should be a last resort. They can slip a note through the door or email you instead. This will give you an opportunity to call in professional help and gather your thoughts. 

Sometimes a journalist or photographer will attempt to doorstep you as you enter your property. It is your property and you do not have to answer any questions. Coming to your property uninvited can constitute press intrusion. You can report this.

2. Stay calm, stay collected, stay polite

Dont be baited into overreacting, however tempting. This may well provide them with a quote or photo opportunity. Politely ask them to email you their questions.

3. Keep a record

Take down the details of any journalist that approaches you: remember, not everyone who says they are working for a certain paper actually is. If they refused to say where they are from, this is a red flag. Speculative freelancers may be researching a story that the newspaper do not even know about yet. 

4. Set a timeframe for answering questions  

By inviting or responding to questions you start a dialogue that could take you anywhere. Less is more until you know the facts.

Unless there is a very good reason, journalists should give you reasonable time to respond. Invite a list of questions, so that you can decide whether or not it would be wise to engage with them as to what it is they want you to comment on.

5. Tell the journalists to leave and not return

The vast majority of the UK press is regulated by IPSO. The newspapers signed up to the regulator are compelled to adhere to IPSOs policies.

Clause 3 of the Code states that journalists must not make repeated approaches to individuals once asked to stop. When you are approached, make it clear in no uncertain terms that you want the journalist to go away. Give no indication that you may wish to comment later.

Another useful tip is to stick a note to your front door, saying I do not wish to speak to journalists, please leave the premises and do not return. This can count as a request to desist.

If you say no comment the journalist may return or even proceed to publish without contacting you further.

6. Private Advisory Notices

If you are now receiving multiple approaches, either on the phone or at your door, an IPSO Private Advisory Notice, also known as a PAN, is another tool you can use. A notice is sent out, either to the entirety of the UK press, or to a select group of newspapers, stating that an individual does not wish to comment and should be left alone. These are not injunctions and they are not legally enforceable, but they have been extremely effective in the past. 

Please note that these are only sent out at the digression of IPSO.

7. Social-media blackout

When a story breaks, not only will journalists be investigating you, they will also likely be trawling the social media profiles of relatives and loved ones, trying to find material they can use for their story, no matter how obscure. You may recommend that your closest family and friends make sure that their social media settings are private.

Being caught unexpectedly can lead you to react differently than if you had prior notice. If you are placed under the glare of media scrutiny, it is advisable to seek legal advice as soon as possible. Vardags Reputation and Privacy team have unrivalled expertise in protecting the reputations and privacy of both individuals and companies and are committed to helping their clients manage issues with sensitivity and discretion. 

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