The government has urged members of the public to “exercise caution” when being approached by journalists in the wake of a major incident.
The Home Office and the Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport have jointly produced new guidelines for members of the public on handling media attention.
The guidance notes dealing with journalists can “sometimes be distressing and daunting”, and advises people to remember “if you do not want to, you do not have to”.
It also offers people advice on what to do if they don’t want to talk to the media – urging people to delete content from social media and be aware that the media might use information in the public domain.
A section of the guidance, headed ‘Why would you want to speak to the media?’, states: “Sometimes, communicating with the media in a controlled way can be a positive experience. It may also satisfy the media’s demand for information, and reduce the number of enquiries you receive.
“Ways to do this include issuing a statement – which could be read by you, someone else, or released in writing – and answering questions for a limited time. However you should be aware that providing information can sometimes lead to more coverage and interest.
“There may also be situations where you would want to exercise caution – for example, when others are at risk or if an investigation is ongoing.”
A further section suggests what people should consider if they do want to speak to the press.
It states: “If you do speak to the press, you should first be clear about what you want to say, and think about the questions they will ask, and the answers you want to give them. You should remember that you do not have to answer any questions, but the media could use any information that you give them – even if you tell them something in confidence or off the record.
“Alternatively, you could also ask a friend, family member or employer to speak to the press on your behalf. If you want to speak on a sensitive matter you might wish to consider seeking the advice of a lawyer.
“There are public relations agencies that specialise in managing relationships with the media, although these can be expensive. While we cannot recommend a particular agency, you could seek advice from the Chartered Institute for Public Relations or the PR Consultants Association.”
The guidance also offers advice on contacting the Independent Press Standards Organisation if people feel they are being “pressured or harassed” by the media, or if they are “unhappy with press coverage after a publication”.