Guidelines for dealing with victims by the press (Belgia)
The problem of privacy comprises much more than only how to deal with victims. As the Council for Journalism has received questions and complaints about this aspect, it prefers to confine itself here to this issue. Other aspects of respecting privacy may be dealt with later.
The press takes the right to privacy and the human dignity constantly into account. The right to information is weighed each time against the right to privacy.
The press uses discretion when publishing names and personal data as well as when taking and spreading photographs or pictures of victims of accidents, catastrophes or crimes.
The fact that victims are well-known persons as well as the social position of the victims or the social relevance of the facts may justify the identification of the victims.
When seaching for information the press does not bring inappropriate pressure to bear on the victims or on their families and friends. So the press refrains from pestering the persons in question and does not continually bother them.
The press reports on intimate or familial feasts or funeral ceremonies with respect and takes the wishes of the persons in question into account.
It is the particular duty of press managers, editors-in-chief and those charged with post-editing on one hand and journalists on the other hand to see to it that the privacy principles in general and the principles stated here in particular are followed correctly.
Since it was formed, the Council for Journalism has received several complaints from persons that have suddenly appeared in the news as victims of crimes, accidents or catastrophes. These persons complain about the way they were treated by the press, not only in reports but also, and sometimes especially, when information for the news was gathered. They feel that their privacy was invaded.
The problem has already been dealt with in the existing Code of Professional Ethics. Article 5 of the ‘Declaration of the responsibilities of journalists’ (1971) says: „To commit himself/herself to respect the private life of persons.” Article 5 of the ‘Code of Journalistic Principles’ (1981) says: „The publishers, the editors-in-chief and journalists must respect the human dignity and privacy; they must avoid every non-permitted interference in personal pain and suffering, unless it is necessary for reasons related to Press Freedom, as determined in Article 1.” The Council for Journalism confirms these principles but considers it necessary to add to them concrete guidelines to specify how the press should deal with victims. In comparison with the situation some decennia ago, the influence of pictures has considerably increased in news reporting. Larger concurrence, too, makes journalists act intrusively when gathering information.
It must nevertheless be clear that other aspects, such as respect for privacy and human dignity, must always be taken into account, and sometimes they may even be of crucial importance, when it is decided whether or not certain information should be published. Elements that are also taken into consideration are the feelings of the victims and those of their families and friends as well as the possible inconveniences that may be caused if personal data are published.