Opinion: It should be illegal for the press to report on inquests without consent

Written by Josephine Helen, 25.

Hello everyone, I hope this article finds you all well, happy and healthy, and that you’re doing as best you can during this pandemic.

It’s been a little while since I wrote for twentysomething, it’s not a gap I planned to have, nor is this article one I ever envisioned myself writing. It’s been a bloody hard and heartbreaking few months my end, as when June came around it saw the death of a dear loved one of mine.

Sadly this is not where my heartache ends, as I now have another fight on my hands, but this time it’s not with my grief or emotions. It’s with my local ‘community’ paper - Plymouth Live, but I am not alone in this fight, and that’s why I won’t go quietly until we have seen change, not only for my family but also for the other (roughly) 475 families around the UK affected by this every year.

So put yourself in my shoes for a moment, and imagine a world where you have to wake up everyday without one of your loved ones? Where you go to ring them to ask their advice and suddenly want to throw your phone at a brick wall, imagine having to watch your boyfriend pick you up from the floor day after day because the pain is too heavy to carry. Imagine someone from your local newspaper attending your loved ones inquest, and then writing an article on them. That’s like me, writing an article about you - you reading this. I don’t know anything about you. Your character, your kindness, your laugh, your work, your ability to make anyone smile…but I’ll write an article about you and I’ll post it for the world to see. All of this without your family's consent, doesn’t seem right, does it?

So why are these articles written about loved ones that pass? There articles are written after a member of the press attends an inquest of the deceased, which is something that happens when someone dies and it’s sudden, unexplained or the medical team aren’t sure why they passed. These inquests are done so that the family are able to determine why their loved one died, and as a result are able to have some closure, but sadly this is often prolonged as inquests are public and the press often attend and then write about it.

The press can then choose whether to write an article or not, and this can sometimes include the deceased ones name, address and photos and comments from their social media pages as well as other personal information (I have often seen them include their relationship status). I say they choose to write this article, because they do. If they wrote on everyone’s inquests we’d see far more in our news outlets than we do now, the press select people to write on who they believe will create them a good revenue, but you see the thing is, these are people's real lives they're writing on, real pain that their families are facing daily, it’s not a quick article to be treated like a soap opera.

These articles have such a detrimental effect on the loved ones, and cause more harm than they do good; from trolling comments, false information, and public scrutiny - all of which could be avoided. Families do not have to undergo such public examination when someone dies of of say, cancer, so why do we?

I had one person contact me through my social media stating that her dad’s inquest was shared through Devon Live whereby the public then trolled on the article. Let that sink in for a moment, and imagine that: you’ve just lost your dad & now people you don’t know or have ever met, are making nasty comments about him and his death. At a time when someone should be surrounded by love and trying to heal, she’s being torn down and stripped of kindness. We all sadly know too well what an effect words can have on a person, as we’ve seen often in the media when public figures like Caroline Flack take their own lives as a result of this. So why are the press allowing this behaviour to continue?

I spoke with one journalist who told me “it’s good that you’ve contacted us, as we will be able to tell you if we write anything. Often we can’t reach the families as we don’t have their information, so we can’t tell them when an article goes up.” Now let’s just hold up for a second, they can find lots of personal information on the deceased person, including pictures and comments from their social media, but they can’t go that small step further and even have the decency to contact the family? Why you ask? I assume it’s because they know the family would protest the article, and they’d be directly going against their wishes. So not only does the family have the heartache of reading an article they had no say in, but the first time they see it is when their scrolling on social media. I have sadly seen the effects of this, and read several comments which were shocked about the article, one said: “when will Plymouth Live learn? At least get your information correct before posting, it’s heartbreaking enough and hard enough to come to terms with, without stories like this. The poor girl hasn’t even had a funeral yet.”

Ipso is a website which states what journalists can and can’t report on after an inquest and they state: “journalists must make sure they do not publish any information that might cause unnecessary upset to the friends and loved ones.” I’ll just leave that there.

I could talk about this until I’m blue in the face, because it’s heartbreaking to me that so many families, including my own, are not able to grieve in the manor they wish because the local press take that power away from them (I was even told by someone that she’d not told many family members yet of her loved ones death, and they found out first from their local news outlet.) They’re constantly taking this power away from families, and shining a public spotlight on them in a time when they need their privacy.

For weeks I have been crying daily missing my loved one, feeling as if someone's shot me in the chest, and for weeks I’ve had an extra cloud hanging over me worrying if the press are going to write an article about them, and having to read trolls comments on my precious family member. So please, if you do one thing today: sign and share this petition. Tell your six mates at the pub, tell your hairdresser, feel my pain and make it your power. Let's make a change for those 475 families and friends effected, and lets let those that have died, rest in peace and power, as they’re proud of the change we made.

Thank you.

Josephine. X

This contribution was written by Josephine Helen. You can read her profile and learn more about the voice behind the contribution, here.