Study reveals support for ‘death knock’

FAMILIES who have been bereaved would rather they were approached directly by the media for comment than have their social media networks invaded in pursuit of a story, a study involving the University of Strathclyde has found.

Dr Sallyanne Duncan, of the University of Strathclyde, and Jackie Newton, of Liverpool John Moores University, interviewed families, journalists and editors on the so-called ‘death knock’, amid concerns that the Leveson Inquiry into press standards might put restrictions on journalists contacting families who have been recently bereaved.

Says Duncan: “If the Leveson Inquiry decides on regulation, to police media contact with the bereaved, journalists may then turn to social media for fear of falling foul of regulators. But this could actually be more intrusive than the much-maligned ‘death knock’, which at least offers an opportunity for the family to have a voice.

“The research also revealed that more families feel excluded from reports of their relatives’ deaths than feel intruded upon. A number of families in the study had been prepared by the police for intense media interest in the death of their loved one. When it did not arrive, or when their loved one’s death was covered briefly without contact with the family, they felt ‘let down’. One mother of a murder victim said this perceived lack of interest added a further layer of hurt to her bereavement. ‘It was as if my son’s death counted for nothing.'”

The study appears as a chapter in a book, published earier this month: The Phone Hacking Scandal; Journalism on Trial, edited by Richard Lance Keeble and John Mair, published by Arima.