Ethical issues journalists and reporters should consider when reporting on those with vulnerabilities

May 27, 2014 8:35 am

To be human is to at some point in life be vulnerable. Though some people may not perceive themselves to be vulnerable or no more potentially vulnerable than someone else journalists and reporters who uphold ethical values and principles see this matter in a different light.vulnerable persons

It is highly regarded that journalists and reporters who cover stories that involve vulnerable individuals, groups or areas practice and uphold ethical behaviours that promotes trust and positive relationships between the two.

The Press Complaints Commission (PCC), an independent body of individuals in the United Kingdom who administers self-regulations for the press says,

“Newspapers and magazines will always want to cover stories about death, especially premature death or death in unusual circumstances. This is not a bad thing in itself; it is in the public interest for a community (either national or local) to be informed about the deaths of its members, and it would not be right for the PCC to restrict such stories unduly. But we know through our experience of speaking to those who have been bereaved that dealing with calls and requests for information from journalists following the death of a loved one can be extremely upsetting. Equally, there is often a lack of understanding about the fact that a tragedy may be reported. It is vital that the friends and family of people who have died are told at an early stage that press interest may be forthcoming.”

Journalists and reporters may find that by developing a focal point on the public good within their stories it may somehow provide positive awareness and an understanding of those with vulnerabilities.

In her article ‘Voices of the Vulnerable’ broadcaster, journalist and psychologist Sian Williams discusses some of the traumatic events she reported on during her time at BBC. She expresses her experience of the interviewing processes with the vulnerable and the interviewees’ state of shock despite their drive to share their story.

reporting on vulnerabilityWilliams begins her article discussing an emotional interview with PC David Rathband who was shot and wounded by gunman Raoul Moat.

As a result PC Rathband was permanently blinded and had remaining shotgun pellets embedded in his face. Williams describes the interview as an emotional one. She says,

“David cried and often reached for my hand. He couldn’t see my producer and he wasn’t aware of the microphone, all he could hear was my voice. I asked whether he was comfortable that such an intimate and personal conversation was going to be edited to less than a quarter of its length, and broadcast on Radio 4 to more than two million people. He said yes, he wanted his story heard however uncomfortable it felt.”

Less than a year after the interview aired PC Rathband killed himself. Many journalists and reporters have had experiences, similar to Williams’ encounter, within the interviewing processes where the interviewee is someone who is a person of vulnerability.

Journalists and reporters cannot take vulnerabilities for granted. Vulnerable people and groups may not always be equipped to defend their interests. As a result standard procedures should always be carried out in order to avoid harm when producing media related materials on those with vulnerabilities.

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