Media and Victims of Crime
Introduction and Aims
For the past 10 years I have
been employed by Norfolk Constabulary as Press and Public Relations
Officer. The main part of my job over this period has been to provide
information to the Media both from a re-active and pro-active stance.
This has necessitated my
involvement in numerous major incidents and investigations in the county,
often working alongside the SIO (Senior Investigating Officer).
My experiences in organising
press conferences and dealing with the Media, along with 17 years of
previous experience as a working journalist, have, I believe, allowed me
to build up a good knowledge of Police/Media relations. To this end I have
produced a number of policy and guideline documents for the force.
In the past five years I have
found myself working increasingly on behalf of victims of crime and
helping them to deal with the Media.
Over this time I have
witnessed a huge proliferation in the number of Media outlets - something
I refer to in police training courses as the Media Explosion. At the same
time Media outlets have become more aggressive and more competitive in
their search for news. Not content to merely cover a story, today they are
always looking for the unusual and exclusive angle.
This has all led to
monumental pressure being put on victims of crime. For previous modules
for my Masters of Art degree I interviewed numerous victims to find out
how they felt about the demands of the Media. Some welcomed it, others
have put up with it and others have tried to shun it. It is my firm belief
that those who have agreed to co-operate with the Media have come out of
the situation the best.
I believe that in many ways
victims of crime are the forgotten people in our society. They all too
often seem to be overlooked in a system that caters for every other aspect
of the process of law.
Having already looked in two
previous pieces of research at the way victims feel they are treated by
the Media, and the way police feel that victims are treated by the Media I
want to use this dissertation to complete the triangular look at Victims
and the Media by studying the attitudes of the Press themselves. At the
same time as doing this I hope, once again to interweave the feelings of
victims to help my own understanding of the subject.
It is not my intention to
allow my research to sit gathering dust on a shelf. I intend using it to
help in a number of areas.
Firstly to provide a
comprehensive manual for the police on the relationship between the Media,
the Police and Victims of Crime. Already my research is being incorporated
into a variety of in-Force documents.
Secondly it is my intention
to use my research to help understand and improve the service that I and
my colleagues can give to Victims of Crime with regards to dealing with
Thirdly to help the Force to
understand a little clearer the attitudes and views of the Media and
fourthly to produce documents for Victim Support helpers which can be
passed on to victims. These documents will outline the help that Norfolk
Constabulary Press Office can give to victims of crime and also provide
information for Victim Support volunteers which can be passed onto victims
with regard to dealing with the Media.
As much as anything my
research has been an active personal journey to improve my understanding
of what is a very difficult area where care, compassion and understanding
is needed but sometimes not used. The whole Media/victims scenario can be
a very volatile mix indeed.
I am certain that the work I
have undertaken will help to develop my own understanding of the situation
and through that understanding give me the opportunity to reach out and
My first aim therefore will
be to illustrate something of the power of the Media through the use of
literature and interviews that combine to suggest we are in the middle of
a Media explosion which shows no signs of abating.
By establishing this power I
hope to illustrate the amount of pressure that victims of major crime will
be put under by the Media.
It is my intention then to
look at the Media themselves to find if guidelines exist for journalists
on how to approach and deal with victims of crime and to find out how
individual reporters treat victims of crime. I want to establish whether
they adhere to any guidelines and also how they feel personally about
approaching victims of crime and also how they feel their colleagues treat
victims. I believe that this will go towards establishing whether the
majority of members of the Media behave in a responsible fashion towards
victims of crime. The meaning of the word responsible in this context will
be made clear in the course of the dissertation.
I am aware that over the past
two years my research has taken me into very delicate areas. Indeed in
looking at the way the Media treats victims of crime I must be very aware
of my own dealings with the victims.
I have approached my dealings
with victims on two levels. The first of these has been from a
professional point whereby my relationship with them has been as a senior
manager with Norfolk Constabulary. I have tried to be totally honest with
them in informing them of what the Media will demand. At times I could be
accused of being "hard" with them, but I have felt it important
to leave them under no false illusions about the strength, the power and
the demanding nature of the Press.
I have tempered this,
however, with a caring attitude towards them. I am very aware of the
trauma that these people are going through and I do not want to add to
their heartache. I have at all times, therefore, been aware of their
feelings and made provision for these in the fact that at any time I would
stop Media interviews if they felt uncomfortable.
In addition I drew up a code
of ethics for my dealings with them. I reprint this below as I am aware
that I have used some comments from victims not already used in my
I also include the code of
ethics devised for dealing with police officers and the Media. Those
dealing with the Media are relevant to this piece of work. The police
ethics were used previously but included here as many of the comments made
to me by officers have formed part of my thinking and given me ideas that
have been used in this dissertation.
Part of my earlier research
involved interviewing police officers regarding their views on the Press.
This included interviews with officers who have had direct contact with
bereaved families and other victims and also family liaison officers.
These interviews took place either personally or through questionnaires.
Each person interviewed and each questionnaire sent included a copy of an
ethics document stating the following.
A/ That the interview was
given in strictest confidence
B/ That they would receive a
transcript of the interview (in cases of personal interview) which they
would be allowed to alter if they were not happy with any part of it.
C/ That they would not be
identified unless they specifically asked to be
D/ That they would have
access to my research and
E/ That at any time they
could stop an interview and ask for it not to be used.
In addition my position as
Press and Public Relations Officer for Norfolk Constabulary gave me access
to highly confidential police data, meetings and resources. Under no
circumstances would I use any of this material in my research.
This was the most sensitive
area of my research. Almost without exception, the victims had all been
through tremendous ordeals. All had featured in high profile Press
coverage both locally and nationally (hence their interest to me).
In order to maintain
uniformity with the format of previous research, however, I decided not to
name any individuals although I made interviewees aware that readers of my
dissertation could possibly identify them from their own knowledge of the
cases through the Media.
I agreed that if an
interviewee asked me to use their name specifically I would do so. It
turned out that all the victims I spoke to were happy to have their names
used although, for the reasons outlined above, I maintained anonymity but
felt that I was not constrained by the worry of them being identified from
I transcribed each individual
interview and offered a copy to the interviewee to give them the chance to
change any part of it. Where tapes were used I offered them to the
interviewees following transcription and also offered to wipe them clean.
I made all the above points
in a written document which was given to all interviewees. I also informed
them that my dissertation and my previous research would form the basis of
policy documentation for Norfolk Constabulary and asked permission to
reproduce sections involving them if necessary.
I emphasised that I would not
use any sections that they were not comfortable with.
For my research I define
Media as any outlet working in the public domain which produces news
whether this is by the written or spoken word or by electronic means. This
will therefore encompass newspapers, magazines, television, radio,
computers and other formats.
I interviewed a number of
journalists and Media sources. I believed it to be important to maintain
uniformity in all my research by not naming the journalists personally or
the organisations they represented. I decided on this course of action
despite the fact that many have a very high profile in the community and
the organisations they represent are in the public domain.
I felt it important, however,
at times to identify the type of organisation that they represented in
order to ensure that no confusion occurred. An example of this was where a
senior reporter from a news agency was talking about representing 40 to 50
Media outlets. This would not have made sense without explaining that he
was from a representative agency.
In addition to using my
research as the basis for policy documents for Norfolk Constabulary and
also for the Victim Support charity I intend making previous modules and
my dissertation available within the Force. This intention was conveyed to
all my interviewees.
At all times I held the
belief that the ownership of individual interviews and the material from
them belonged with the interviewees. Anything they were not happy with has
I must say at this point,
however, that interviewees from all branches of my research - victims,
police and media - were all extremely helpful throughout. I met with no
opposition and generally with genuine warmth and interest from all those I
My Position as an Insider
It is my intention throughout
my research to look at and analyse my own experiences as I believe that
they dovetail with my subject matter. I have a good working relationship
with the Media built on a reasonably solid foundation of trust. I am
aware, however, of the flimsy nature of this trust that can easily be
broken by either side.
The media can misrepresent or
misquote me and I can be accused of withholding information. Together we
tread a very fine line between success and failure. I am also aware that
both the press and myself can be manipulative of a situation.
Sometimes I feel that it is a
matter of control and domination - with both sides wanting to call the
shots and be in charge.
Certainly the media can be
manipulative and often what they print or broadcast is not so much about
the truth per se as their interpretation of the truth which can be
coloured by their audience.
Any journalist worth their
salt will know what their target audience is and adapt their style
At the same time I would have
to hold my hands up and admit to also being manipulative of the Media. I
see my role as performing a variety of different functions which include
1. Representing the wishes of
the victims and their families and helping them to cope with their tragedy
and the pressure put on them by the Media. This also includes helping them
to use the Media for whatever purpose they may feel fit. In this way I
believe I am acting firmly in the interests of the victims.
2. Satisfying the Media's
need and almost working as their representative to obtain and pass on
information. In the past I have often ended up feeling that I was employed
by the Media and I am sure at times they see this as my function. This is
not true but it can be the Media's perception of my role. In this way I
believe I am acting in the interests of the Media.
3. To maintain control of the
story as much as possible and this includes packaging the story in such as
way that it receives the correct slant in Media coverage.
4. Representing the interests
of the Police to ensure that they come out of the situation in a good
light. In this way I am acting in the interests of the Police.
I would find it difficult to
put these four functions in any kind of priority order and would argue
that their importance changes according to the situation I am dealing
with. During a murder investigation, it is probably more important to
consider points one and three than two and four. In the controversial
anti-police story, however, point four would be of paramount importance.
I have carried out my
research therefore as someone who sees himself as working equally with
(and for) the police, victims and the media. Part of that job involves
representing each to the others. I have two very important rules, however.
I would never betray the trust or deliberately hurt victims in any way by
giving information to the media that they did not want released and I
would never pass on any confidential information to the media gathered
from the police.
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Go to Chapter Two
Go to Chapter Three
Go to Chapter Four
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