Saturday 29 September 2018

Interviewing the Traumatised

For those who are interested, here's a transcript of the later discussion on this week's Newswatch:

Samira Ahmed: Now, one concern that's regularly raised by Newswatch viewers is over interviews with people who've just undergone or witnessed traumatic events such as a terrorist attack. After last year's terror attack at the Manchester Arena, for instance, a number of viewers posted online their objections to how the story was being covered by some members of the press. A Twitter user called Laura said she "had to turn the TV off because I am absolutely appalled at the way 'journalists' are pushing traumatised children for interviews". And Sue McDonald agreed: "Wish journalists would stop trying to interview freshly traumatised, shocked and tearful people and asking such dumb questions". Well, the BBC has developed new training for its journalists on how to handle such interviews. And to tell us more, I'm joined from Nottingham by the senior news reporter, Jo Healey, and from Salford by the BBC's North of England correspondent, Judith Moritz. Judith, first, you reported on the aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombing. Lots of news media were there. What was the experience of some of the survivors and relatives of those who died? 

Judith Moritz

Judith Moritz: I think in the first moments, the first day, couple of days of the attack, it was a very intense time. It was relatively chaotic. News was very quickly rolling round the clock. You spoke there about people seeing those who were traumatised being interviewed at the scene. I got to know some of those who were directly involved, some of the families particularly who lost loved ones in the attack. And it was only by talking to them over a longer period that we started to build up trust with each other and a relationship which I am pleased to say in some cases continues until today. And that was one of the lessons I learnt through reporting the Manchester Arena attack, was that this was not something that was appropriate for us to turn up and report, and leave and forget about. It is certainly, here in Manchester, and beyond still, an attack along with many others which resonates, which has left people's lives changed forever and we have a responsibility to continue telling that story. 
Samira Ahmed: Jo, you've written a book as well as developing training for the BBC about how to speak to people who have gone through this kind of trauma. Can you tell us what sort of advice you're giving? 
Jo Healey: Well, yes, as reporters, are you were hearing, so many of us so regularly can be working so closely with people who are emotionally vulnerable. They are very much at the heart of the course. Its message to reporters is - do your job, do it well, do no harm. It is about, as well as being a human being, being professional. So we look at openness, honesty, transparency, at managing expectations, at our use of body language, our use of language, the all-important skill of listening to what people are trying to tell us. Of getting our facts right, that basic trust when people have entrusted their story to us. And we apply this sort of good practice to each step of the reporting process. So, to approaching, to the relationships that we create, as you heard, to interviewing, to filming with them, which is often out of their comfort zone, and to writing about them and framing their stories. 
Samira Ahmed: Judith, can you just tell me a bit more about what happened after the Manchester Arena bombing? Because we know relatives did report being... Getting really intrusive questioning in the immediate aftermath by some journalists. 
Judith Moritz: We know because the family spoke to Lord Kerslake, who produced a review into the arena, in which they were damning about the treatment by some parts of the media, press reporters turning up unannounced on the doorstep, they said it was very intrusive. One family told me that in fact their children had discovered that their brother had died by reporters coming to the door. And that prompted us at the BBC to see whether we could do something about this. Whether we could put together those experiences to learn from them and to teach journalists, not just within the BBC, but externally as well, through the BBC Academy, about the way things are done and shouldn't be done, and to see whether there can be some sort of improvement. 
Samira Ahmed: Jo, we know that, in the aftermath of these terrible incidents, journalists have a duty to report. What is the view now on the wisdom of broadcasting interviews with relatives who might say they are willing, but they break down in the interviews, and it does distress viewers who feel the BBC perhaps shouldn't be broadcasting this? 

Jo Healey

Jo Healey: So, parents whose children, a number of parents whose children were killed, children whose parents have died, and survivors of abuse, have gone on film for the course, they were all interviewed by a number of reporters at a time of great distress, and on film they spell out what they liked and disliked about that process. A teenage girl whose mum died, she says "Don't switch the cameras off because I consider that a disservice against not showing the rawness of my emotion". A young boy who was 12 whose dad died by suicide, he says, "Actually I need a minute, I need a break." So you can't club these families together. Everyone is different. And it's so important to treat them as individuals and to listen to how they want to be treated. And that goes back to preparing them, talking to them and giving them control. 
Samira Ahmed: Judith Moritz and Jo Healey, thank you both so much. 


  1. So now the BBC is teaching others, not only their own journalists how to do it or how not to. Just ask Cliff. He could run the course for them.

  2. /\/\/\ That makes no sense at all... /\/\/\


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