Leveson afternoon round up: Keir Starmer, Trans Media Watch, SAMM

Leveson inquiry: Keir StarmerPosted: February 8, 2012 at 5:00 pm

An interim policy on the prosecution of journalists will be ready within a matter of weeks, the Director of Public Prosecutions has said today.

Keir Starmer QC told the Leveson Inquiry said he was “pretty sure” he has jurisdiction over offences relating to personal data breaches. He is expected to give further evidence at a later date.

He said: “It seems to me it would be prudent to have a policy that sets out in one place the factors that prosecutors will take into account when considering whether to prosecute journalists acting in the course of their newsgathering.”

Starmer said there were only a “handful” of cases where the Crown Prosecution Service had considered charging journalists and explained that statutory defences for journalists included an express public interest, public interest in terms of free speech and concerns over the Official Secrets Act.

The inquiry also heard from representatives of Trans Media Watch, an organisation campaigning against prejudiced and inaccurate depictions of transgendered people in the media, and the Northern Ireland division of Support After Murder and Manslaughter, an organisation supporting bereaved families.

Helen Belcher, from Trans Media Watch, said the trans community had “more or less walked away from the PCC”.

She added: “The PCC has wanted to express support but for whatever reason is unable to actually deliver on that support… [The PCC are] like Pontius Pilate, that is, washing their hands with a sense of woe that there is nothing that they can do.”

Belcher said the press often uses demeaning language and before-and-after pictures in stories, and conflats murders of trans individuals with sex work regardless of facts. She said she struggled to understand the public interest in the media disclosing gender transitions of individuals.

She added: “We noted [Sun editor] Mr Mohan’s suggestion that groups like us come and train their journalists in issues, but it’s basic human decency and respect, and that’s actually all were asking for. We’re not asking for special treatment, we’re asking for the same treatment as everybody else. ”

Pam Surphlis, from SAMM NI, told the inquiry press interest in murder and manslaughter victims often adds to the trauma suffered by bereaved families.

She described the funeral of her own sister and father, who were murdered in 1992, saying the church had banned press from coming on to the premise.

She added: “The road was lined with very respectful member of the public and all you could hear in that was just the clicking of cameras. Luckily… the church where the funeral was taking place had banned the press from stepping on to the property, but that doesn’t always happen.”

Surphlis outlined a series of points explaining how journalists should approach bereaved families, including the use of official intermediaries, refraining from doorstepping and attending funerals and informing families if stories about a death are going to be run “weeks, months or years later”.

She recommended a regional press ombudsman for Nothern Ireland to ensure citizens felt represented in media regulation.

She added: “Families don’t want to know how to handle the media because they don’t want the media in the first place.

“I’m… immensely grateful to the inquiry being set up, that we at least have a voice somewhere that somebody is prepared to listen to bereaved families.”

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