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Facing harassment from the media

The reported suicide of Caroline Flack, the Love Island presenter, at the start of 2020 following a prolonged campaign of harassment again highlighted the issues faced by celebrities, royalty and wealthy individuals in relation to unwanted media attention. Journalists seeking the next big news story are often accused of crossing the line into harassment. Harassment from anyone can cause distress for those it is aimed at and where it is the media it can be particularly upsetting.

Legal advice on press intrusion and intimidation

Newspapers are not allowed to harass individuals just to get information for a story. Media intrusion and harassment is a concern for those that are in the limelight and there are various routes that can be pursued where people are feeling harassed.

Most national newspapers and magazines are regulated by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO). IPSO enforces the Editors Code of Practice, which sets out the minimum expectations in relation to the conduct of those that are employed by these publications. The Code covers the following issues:

  • Accuracy
  • Privacy
  • Harassment
  • Intrusion into grief or shock
  • Reporting suicide
  • Children
  • Children in sex cases
  • Hospitals
  • Reporting of a crime
  • Clandestine devices and subterfuge- this means that information must not be obtained using hidden cameras or listening devices or intercepting private communications.
  • Victims of sexual assault
  • Discrimination
  • Financial journalism
  • Confidential sources
  • Witness payments in criminal trials
  • Payment to criminals
  • The public interest

Journalists are not allowed to engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit and they must:

  • Not continue questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to stop.
  • Not remain on a property when asked to leave.
  • Identify themselves and what publication they are from.

Editors are also expected to make sure their journalists are following these principles and that they do not use material that has been gained by non-compliant methods from other sources.

 

Complaints can be made to IPSO where the Code is breached. They have various powers and can:

  • Investigate complaints including articles, images and videos, readers letters, user comments on websites that the publisher moderates and the behaviour of journalists.
  • Order publications to publish corrections or adjudications (including their front page).
  • Fine publishers up to £1 million for serious and systematic breaches of the Code.

IPSO offers an anti-harassment advice line as well as an arbitration scheme, that is compulsory for all their national newspaper members. IPSO will help to mediate any complaint to see if an informal resolution can be found. If this is not possible then the next stage would be reviewed by their Complaints Committee, which will decide if there has been a breach. This will be published on their website and they can require the publication to publish their findings.

Dealing with aggressive reporters

If you ask a journalist to stop their actions and they continue to do so then they will be breaching the Code unless there is a public interest reason to continue. There are various practical actions you can take:

  • Clearly state that you do not wish to speak to them. Take their details and refer to the Editors Code.
  • If you are at home or work you could attach a note to the front door saying you do not want to be disturbed.
  • If you are being contacted by telephone you can change your voicemail message to say you do not want to speak to the media and will only respond to personal callers.
  • Always keep a record of the activities of journalists and what concerns you have.

If you ever feel that your personal safety is at risk, then you should contact the police. Journalists are also not allowed to photograph individuals in a private place without their consent.

Anybody that is the subject of an article or has been affected by the behaviour of a journalist can complain to IPSO. If the complaint is about the significant accuracy of the article under the Code, then any member of the public can make a complaint, it does not have to just be the subject of the article. It should be noted that IPSO cannot stop the publication of a story or from questioning an individual, it can only advise members on their actions and rule on breaches of the Code.

As well as complaining to IPSO, the following organisations can help individuals with complaints about the area that they regulate:

  • Ofcom regulates radio and television.
  • BBC complaints regulates complaints about the BBC.
  • Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) regulates complaints about advertising.
  • Publications not regulated by IPSO should be contacted directly.

Preventing publication of information by the media

If you are contacted by a publication and informed that they are publishing a story that you believe breaches the Editors Code, then you can contact IPSO for advice.

Private advisory notices can be issued by IPSO. It should be noted that these are not injunctions with legal powers. However, they do mean that the editor is on notice and are usually very effective at dealing with various concerns. They can be useful in the following cases:

Death of high profile individual

Publications can be made aware by IPSO that the families wish is for a private funeral not attended by the media and that they do not want photographs published to allow them to grieve in peace. This can involve accidents, death abroad or terrorism.

Accusations of a crime

Journalists can be asked to leave the area around an accuseds home and stop them from asking the accused or their family for comment.

Celebrity news

Any significant life event of a high profile celebrity will always cause media interest. IPSO can inform publications to leave individuals alone.

Civil Actions

Another route is to take legal advice in relation to the harassment. If you are being harassed by a journalist on at least two occasions that has caused you alarm or distress, then this will fall under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

The courts can make an order or injunction to stop the journalist from harassing you. If they continue, then this is a breach of the injunction and is a criminal offence that can be prosecuted.

The information on this website is intended as a guide and does not constitute legal advice. Vardags do not accept liability for any errors in the information on this website, nor any losses stemming from reliance upon the statements made herein. All articles and pages aim to reflect the legal position at time they were published, and may have been rendered obsolete by subsequent developments in the law. Should you require specialist advice, tailored to your situation, please see how Vardags can help you.

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