Coronavirus, the media and PR communications: keeping the nation and your audience connected during an evolving health crisis

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4 min read

Never before has international media covered one story for such a prolonged period. The world is watching and/or reading news content with a primary focus on one subject, coronavirus (COVID-19). The pandemic dominates media content being aired into our homes and published in print to millions of readers.

These are history-making times and the media is playing a pivotal role; it is undoubtedly helping to assimilate accurate and up to date information to the public on critical and rapidly changing issues. However, there is no escaping the coverage and many of us are limiting our daily news content for the sake of our mental health. We consider how the media regulators have responded to such a unique time in our lives:

  • How have the media regulators responded?
  • What should you be aware of if you or your organisation is the subject of coronavirus media content?
  • What should you be aware of if you are a publisher of coronavirus related content, perhaps on behalf of your organisation?
  • What key information should your communications/PR teams be aware of?
  • How might the media report from court hearings during the pandemic?

These issues are of particular importance for those operating in the media and public sectors. The issues will also be of interest to those responsible for reputation management, brand protection and anyone involved in defamation and media work. Even if you are not IPSO/Ofcom regulated, the notes below provide sound advice if you or your organisation is publishing coronavirus content to your specific stakeholders.

We now turn to the relevant guidance that published by Ofcom, IPSO and the Judiciary and identify the key considerations.

Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code

As the regulators for communication services, including TV and radio, Ofcom have produced a note to broadcasters, reminding them of the importance of compliance with the Code during the current pandemic:

  • Dissemination of accurate and up-to-date information to audiences will be essential.
  • Broadcasters are reminded of the significant potential harm that can be caused by material relating to coronavirus. This includes health claims related to the virus, medical advice which may be harmful and accuracy or material misleadingness in programmes related to the virus or public policy regarding it.
  • Broadcasters should be prepared to engage with Ofcom on a short time scale as Ofcom will be prioritising enforcement of broadcast standards in relation to such issues.
  • All broadcasters should have measures in place to make and retain recordings of broadcast output, in case Ofcom requests these to assess any complaints.
  • All broadcasters should have a contingency plan to ensure their output complies with the Broadcasting Code. In the event their compliance officer is unable to work, if such contingency plans come under threat, broadcasters should consider whether they should remain on air.
  • The suspension of schools across the UK at this time means during the daytime, children will be available to see or listen to content. Broadcasters are reminded of this when producing content during such times.
  • Ofcom does not presently plan to adjust broadcasters’ existing programming commitments, however, if as a broadcaster you are genuinely unable to comply with certain terms of your licence for reasons beyond your reasonable control, Ofcom will take the impact of coronavirus fully into account when considering broadcasters’ compliance.

Ofcom's note to broadcasters 

IPSO

As the independent regulator of most of the UK’s newspapers and magazines, IPSO has produced guidelines on the reporting of coronavirus.

  • Communications and Public Affairs Officer, Hanno Fenech, emphasized the importance of accurate reporting in the coverage of coronavirus.
  • Clause 1 of the IPSO Editors’ Code covers accuracy: the press must not publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including misleading headlines.
  • Any inaccurate information should be corrected promptly, and with due prominence. This is especially significant given the ever-evolving health crisis: it is important the correct position is on record.
  • Readers need to know the information they read is accountable.  If you see something in the press which you think breaks the rules, you can make a complaint under the IPSO Editors’ Code.

IPSO Blog

Media access to hearings

Finally, a new Practice Direction has been published regarding media access to remote hearings during the coronavirus pandemic.

Key  points for anyone in the process of an on-going libel and media dispute include:

  • The new Practice Direction will remain in force for as long as the Coronavirus Act 2020 is intended to.
  • This technical amendment allows the court to hold a hearing via video or audio, in private, where it is not possible for the hearing to be broadcast in a court building.
  • Where a media representative is able to access proceedings remotely while they are taking place, then the hearing will be conducted publicly.
  • Any hearing held in private must be audio recorded where it is practicable to do so. In certain instances, a private hearing may be video recorded.
  • Where a remote hearing is recorded, any person may apply to the court for permission to access such recording.

Practice direction on video or audio hearings 

We will continue to keep these issues under review and hope that the above content helps you deal with being the subject of media content, or publish content to your own specific audiences.

If you are impacted by reputational issues during this unprecedented time, or require pre-publication assistance, please do not hesitate get in touch.

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