Public have duty to respect mourning families
Journalists and the public have a role to play in ensuring families have privacy to process the sudden death of a loved one, the sister of the late MP Shawn Crockwell said yesterday.
Juanae Crockwell said the media should wait to release information until police had confirmed all next of kin had been informed.
And she asked members of the public to think before they shared a message about a death.
Ms Crockwell said it was hard to learn about her brother’s death in June 2017 through a WhatsApp chat group.
She added: “What happens is that Bermuda is so small, once the information is disseminated, the family has no privacy, whether they are a public person or not. The ripple effect is a lot for a family.”
She suggested a grace period before news of a death was published or broadcast by the media but said she recognised that was unlikely in the age of the internet and social media.
But Ms Crockwell added: “I just don’t understand why it has to be done so quickly. The public lose nothing by having to wait, I would say, 24 hours, but let’s say 12 hours.
“But the family lose so much by having it broadcast so quickly.”
Ms Crockwell said the recent death of Progressive Labour Party MP Walton Brown and the speed with which it was reported brought back memories of her brother’s death.
She added: “Someone sent me a screenshot of TNN announcing that a 57-year-old MP was found dead and, literally, my heart sank.
“I just know that feeling of your loved one is dead but the media has to tell everyone.”
Ms Crockwell said: “I’m not anti-media. The media has a role. I have accepted that it will probably never be legislated or mandated. But please give the next of kin some time to call some other people.”
In a complaint to police about her brother’s death allegedly being leaked to the public by a police officer, Ms Crockwell gave a timeline for that day:
• 4.07pm — ambulance on route from Clearwater Fire Station
• 4.17pm — emergency medical technicians on scene
• 4.29pm — emergency medical technicians leave scene
• 4.45pm — forensic officer on scene
• 5.55pm — official notification of next of kin
Bermuda Police Service sent out a press release confirming Mr Crockwell had died at 6.53pm.
Ms Crockwell said: “The BPS indicates that the next of kin was officially notified of Shawn’s death at 5.55pm.
“I have always taken issue with that timeline because I personally believe it was well after 6pm. However, 5.55pm is what our liaison officer gave us as the official time.”
She added that The Royal Gazette posted a story online about an MP being found dead at 6.03pm.
“That timeline allows for eight minutes between the moment the next of kin was officially notified and when the public was officially notified.
“Eight minutes is not ... adequate time for any family to wrap their heads around the death of their loved one.
“Even if all the protocols would have been followed and Shawn’s death had not been leaked, we still would have only had eight minutes between private notification and public announcement. A family deserves more than eight minutes.”
Dexter Smith, the Editor of The Royal Gazette, said: “We can most definitely do better. While it is too late to put in place sensitivity training as a prerequisite for Bermuda residents gaining internet access, we in the media must be more empathetic.
“That construct is built in to the processes already in place via not reporting on a death until police have given official confirmation and then not releasing a name until police have done the same. This should remove any doubt that all next of kin have been informed.”
Mr Smith added: “The greater the profile the deceased possesses in the community, the more blurred the lines become between being empathetic and being duty-bound to inform the public of a significant event as soon as is reasonable.
“The cases of Shawn Crockwell and, latterly, Walton Brown are examples of when Bermuda and her media did not get it quite right — for that we can only apologise to the families.
“Unless a prominent figure meets their end in a public environment, family members should not be learning of their passing through the media or through social media.
“For a community our size, it is morally wrong and it feels wrong. As the authoritative media in this country, we need to take the lead.
“That said, I patently disagree with Ms Crockwell’s wishes for a 12-hour stay — that is unsustainable in today’s world of instant communication and far in excess of the time required normally for authorities to get through their processes of contacting all next of kin.”
A police spokesman said: “Once police personnel have attended the scene of a sudden death and conducted the necessary inquiries, the official announcement of the individual’s identity is only made public by the BPS after the deceased’s next of kin has been notified. This is a longstanding police policy regarding sudden deaths — which has been reiterated to the media and the public over the years — and continues to be our standard.”
UPDATE: This article has been amended to reflect the fact that the BPS issued a statement confirming Mr Crockwell had died at 6.53pm on June 10, 2017.
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