PCC ‘death knock’ debate escalates

The debate about how journalists should behave when performing ‘death knocks’ continues to simmer after journalist Chris Wheal wrote about being on the receiving end of the experience.

Wheal has proposed changes to the system, which he will present to the PCC next week. He recently criticised sections of the press for its handling of the death of his nephew, who died in a tragic accident.

Wheal’s ideas include offering the services of a ‘media advisor’ to help families cope with press attention; ending the practice of sending out young, inexperienced journalists to the ‘death knock’; and supplying a leaflet to bereaved families, explaining what they can expect from the media.

However, after Press Gazette editor Dominic Ponsford criticised the PCC for providing “scant guidance” on the subject, the press watchdog hit back, saying his suggestion was “simply wrong”.

It insisted that it already provides such a leaflet online. It seems no one knew of its existence, and Ponsford said the PCC “clearly needs to do more in communicating its role”.

The morality of the ‘death knock’ has prompted much debate. MediaGuardian’s Roy Greenslade answered criticisms of the practice in his blog, offering his own experiences as an example that some families are grateful for the opportunity to talk about their loss.

“They wanted to place on record the life story of the dead person and/or the circumstances of the death,” he said.

(Source: Wheal’s Blog, MediaGuardian)

This article appears in issue 247 of Media Digest.

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