How to protect your private life or family from media intrusion

The PHA Group ‘s Head of Media Management Phil Taylor discusses his personal experience of protecting clients from media intrusion.

The issue of privacy and media intrusion has never been more prevalent than it is today.

There is a perception that as soon as you put yourself in the public eye your right to a private life disappears and everything is fair game… including a media outlet’s right to publish information or pictures about your family.

Of course this isn’t the case at all and if you find you are the victim of media intrusion there are a number of actions you can take to protect your privacy.

While there is still much debate over the role of the Independent Press Standards Organisation, the fact is there is a strong code of media ethics which all editors and reporters should stick to. Understanding these codes will help you protect your privacy and that of your family, although of course having a media advisor to fight your corner will also be hugely beneficial.

In the following interview we speak to leading crisis management expert Phil Taylor about his experiences dealing with press intrusion.

As a former journalist with more than 20 years experience working on national newspapers, Phil is often described as a “poacher turned gamekeeper” and he has helped protect the private lives of countless individuals from undue press intrusion.

How would you define media intrusion?

It is unwarranted invasion of privacy by the news media.

An example of this would be the singer Paul Weller who sued a national newspaper for misuse of private information after pictures of his children appeared online. The images were published after a photographer followed Weller and his children on a shopping trip in California, taking the photos without their consent despite being asked to stop.

The family won £10,000 in privacy damages and Weller’s wife said they wanted to make a stand against what she described as “threatening, aggressive and abusive” behaviour.

Can you give an example of media intrusion situation you have had to deal with?

Yes. We represented a woman who was suddenly thrust into the media limelight when her famous husband was accused of having an affair. Our client, who hadn’t been in the public eye at all, woke up to find her family home surrounded by photographers and reporters. She didn’t know what to do, felt trapped and was distraught.

How did you help her?

What we did immediately was to find out the names of the reporters and photographers outside. We then made it clear to each and every one of them that she had no plans to make any comment at that stage. Next we took a note of all their interest and then we asked them if they would leave.

I’m pleased to say it worked. The reporters and photographers did leave her home and she was able to carry on with her life without the prying lenses of photographers.

It sounds like a stressful situation.

Yes, she was a devoted mum who wanted to take her son to school without having photographers camped on her doorstep.

Fortunately there are rules that journalists have to abide by. We called the newspaper editors, they listened and acted appropriately.

What do you mean by rules?

All the national newspaper editors have signed up to a code of conduct and they do need to adhere to it.

What sort of codes are there?

All members of the press have a duty to maintain the highest professional standards. They are signed up to the editor’s code of conduct and there are very strict rules dealing with everything from accuracy, to privacy, to reporting of crime, to victims of sexual assault, to discrimination, to financial journalism.

Are there any other examples you can talk about?

One shocking example was a celebrity client who was woken up at 7am by a bang on his door. He went to the door in his dressing gown to find a reporter standing in his hall way. This was in a private apartment, in a private block that had security gates outside. The reporter had actually managed to get through the security system and up to his top floor flat to confront him with a series of questions. He was understandably shocked and livid.

How did you get involved?

Luckily the client had asked for the name of the reporter, got his business card and phoned me immediately. I then put a call into the news editor and the reporter was hauled off the job. The newspaper was very apologetic for the actions of their reporter and we ensured our client was never harassed like that again.

Are there any general tips you would give someone in this situation?

As this case illustrates the most important thing you need to know is who is the person knocking on your door. Are they a freelance or are they employed by a national newspaper?

Ask for their business card and do not make any comment at all. Then make it clear that you don’t wish to make any comment and ask them to leave. Make sure you say you will be in touch if you ever change your mind. That will give you time to consider any statement you may wish to make.

If the journalist refuses to leave and persists to knock on your door then it becomes an issue of harassment. I’d certainly advise having a publicist who can call them and they will quickly deal with the matter on your behalf

Does it really make a difference if you have a media advisor?

If you are in the public eye I would strongly recommend that you do have a professional publicist. So many people make disastrous mistakes when they try to handle the media on their own and say things they later deeply regret.

If you have a PR with a journalist background, they will be ready for all the tricks of the trade and will not only promote you but most importantly protect your reputation.

Get in touch with the team