The victims commissioner has endorsed a new set of guidelines for journalists and victims which she says will be particularly important in forthcoming years of ‘information recovery’ relating to the Troubles.
Judith Thompson was speaking to victims and survivors, journalists and academics at the launch of new Media Reporting Guidelines for Victims, Survivors and Journalists at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB).
This period is likely to be characterised by an increased frequency and level of scrutiny on historical investigations and information recovery relating to the many traumatic events of the TroublesJudith Thompson, Victims Commissioner
The codes were written by journalist Susan McKay, who consulted with other journalists and over 60 victims.
They were developed as part of a ‘Victims and Dealing with the Past’ project at QUB School of Law, led by Dr Cheryl Lawther, with Prof Kieran McEvoy and Dr Lauren Dempster.
Mrs Thompson said the guidelines could be viewed as “a significant source of empowerment” for inexperienced victims who are not used to dealing with the media, and could help in the building of a more peaceful society “where victims and survivors’ voices must be heard”.
She added that some victims have told her how the choice of language, images and even factual inaccuracies in reporting can cause them distress.
“Support for and adherence to the guidance from print and broadcast media will be particularly important in the months and years ahead,” she said. “This period is likely to be characterised by an increased frequency and level of scrutiny on historical investigations and information recovery relating to the many traumatic events of the Troubles.”
While the guidelines are not legally binding, they do represent “good practice” she added.
The code for journalists urges them to approach victims with sensitivity and respect – and to treat them with care in carrying out the interview and presenting it.
The guidelines for victims prompt them to consider carefully in advance what they want to say, who they trust to speak to and to take steps to ensure they can tell their own story in a manner they are comfortable with.
Three members of the Victims Forum joined a panel to give their full endorsement to the guidelines.
They were Alan Brecknell, whose father was murdered by loyalists, Paul Gallagher who was paralysed from the waist down after being shot by loyalists, and Leslie Veronica, whose father was in the UDR and murdered by the IRA.
• The codes can be read here.