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Media reporting

Press conference where a woman takes notes
Whether you are a victim, a survivor or involved in some way in an incident, you will undoubtedly be faced with questions from the media. Think carefully. You are under no obligation to respond.

Arguments and advice

Arguments for engaging with the media

  • Presenting your version of the facts.
  • Disseminating accurate and respectful information.
  • Preventing testimony from people who are not involved or people with bad intentions.
  • Sharing your grief.
  • Passing a message or making a call.
  • Seeking support by viewing images in the aftermath of the event.

'My first reaction was: keep the press out of it. This is private. I had been in the newspaper and on TV before, but that was in a professional setting and usually with cheerful news. The first good advice came from our good friends Roman and Laurence. They lost a little daughter themselves. Shot in the street because her babysitter was African. They said it was quite confusing. In the morning you chase the press from your property and at night you look for images in the evening news.

My wife Kris reacted differently than I did. She heard something said about it on the news and she wanted to see it. We watched together and she said it made her feel good. It was important to her that it did not go unnoticed. That everyone knew...

Guillaume Van Der Stichelen, father of Mattias. Mattias Van der Stighelen was killed in the night of 2 to 3 March 2011, when he fell into a cellar hole at a student party.

Arguments for not engaging with the media

  • Respect for privacy.
  • Difficulty setting boundaries (e.g. providing too much detail or giving an in-depth interview).
  • Difficulty getting your message across properly.
  • Anger.
  • Journalists who do not respect the rules of ethics.
  • Children involved. Minors involved in a legal case cannot appear in the media.

You want to address the media:

  • Inform yourself about the conditions of the interview:
    • The possibility of reading the text of the interview afterwards
    • The possibility of not broadcasting part of the interview
    • Photos and videos. If necessary, provide a nice photo of the victim for the media.
  • Be prepared. Prepare your interview carefully.
  • Do not be pressured. Take your time.
  • Communicate only with professional journalists. Make sure you know exactly what newspaper or TV station they work for.
  • If necessary, choose a spokesperson to represent you in the media.

'The media responded to our request. The situation was quite exceptional: a TV station was filming the search operation when my brother died. Well, they chose images for their newscasts with the utmost care and respect. At no point did they show things that would unnecessarily cause my mother and our family more pain.'

 'Every situation is different, but if I could give people a little advice, I would definitely suggest them to ask for help in talking to the media. Help from a friend or acquaintance who wants to be a spokesperson, help from a press office if you are dealing with an organisation or company. Support from someone who is able to distance themselves from all those emotions that overwhelm you.'

Philippe, twin brother of Olivier Rouxhet, diver with Civil Protection. He died during a rescue operation.

Points for consideration

Make arrangements with the media

  • Delimit your story, prepare your communication well.
    • Decide in advance what you want to bring up.
    • If you want to talk to journalists, that does not mean you have to answer all the questions.
    • Know where your limits are.
    • Do not talk about others.
  • Provide information or photos spontaneously.
    • This way you ensure that the right information is disseminated in a respectful manner.
    • It is better to distribute nice photos yourself than to have less nice ones appear.
  • Images
    • It is better to allow the media to make their own images than to have them make and distribute them secretly.
    • Make arrangements with the photographers and cameramen.
    • If you do not want the victim's photo to be published, you can ask the media to respect Section 10 of the Copyright Act. In short, this means that media can only publish your photo with your express permission or that of your heirs (generally your family) and this up to 25 years after your death.
  • Stay anonymous
    • You can make arrangements to maintain your anonymity in the media. For example, no images of your home or interior.
  • Choose your media:
    • It is best to treat all media in the same way (provide the same information, the same photo, etc.), but you are completely free in your choice of media.
  • Set up a press conference:
    • It allows you to take care of all communication at once.
    • You need to prepare well for such a press event.
    • You can provide the questions you do not want to answer to the journalists in advance.
    • You can also prepare a text and read it out or have it read out.
  • The 'pool' system
    • To avoid too many meetings with reporters, you can allow one photographer and one reporter from a news agency to distribute images and information to the media. Belga is the Belgian news agency. There are also some photo agencies.
  • Proofread
    • Decide if you want to proofread the article before publication.
    • However, you will need to be able to react quickly. Journalists work under time pressure, any changes must be passed on quickly.
  • Children
    • Special rules and strict laws apply to reporting on children. For example, their picture or full name cannot be published without permission.
    • Children and adolescents are extra vulnerable.

'That experience is what made me react the way I did: I consulted with the family and prepared our message well. That is very important: prepare what you want to say. I also referred many journalists to the prosecutor's office or to the press office of Civil Protection.'

'I let the journalists do their job. They have a right to information and a complete information freeze is risky. You could give the impression that you want to withhold something. But on the other hand, I was not a witness to the accident, so I could not tell anything about what or how it happened. And I also did not want to say anything to avoid my words being misinterpreted. Other people were authorised to communicate about the events.'

'I did make sure the journalists got two photos. Photos that showed my brother as he was: a hard worker, someone who loved to travel and loved nature.'

Philippe, twin brother of Olivier Rouxhet, diver with Civil Protection. He died during a rescue operation.     

In case of complaints

Occasionally problems arise: the facts are not presented correctly, words are published that you did not say, etc.

  • You can ask for a correction, either by addressing the journalist in question or by registered letter to the Editor-in-Chief.
  • You can take your complaints to the Press Council. The Press Council is an independent body that deals with complaints about media conduct and monitors professional ethics. A ruling by the Council is taken very seriously by the media.
  • In case of major damage, you can go to court and demand rectification or compensation.

'One newspaper called my parents. I worked in the media business for years and knew the Editor-in-Chief. I immediately phoned him and asked him to leave my parents alone. And they did. But I am well aware that few people can just call an Editor-in-Chief. You do not actually control the media coverage. And you are so caught up in emotional turmoil that you do not want to and are unable to deal with that as well.'

Guy Storm, father of Vicky. She died when their apartment building collapsed after a gas leak.