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To: Independent Press Standards Organisation

Amend the Editor's Code to prevent media exploitation in illness and death

Amend the Editor's Code to prevent media exploitation in illness and death

The Editor's Code needs to be amended to clarify the way that social media can be used by the press - this is of critical importance when someone is seriously ill or has died.

Why is this important?

The Editor's Code tries to protect the loved ones of a deceased person in grief and shock - but it doesn't go far enough. There is ambiguity about the use of social media by the press that needs to be rectified by clarity within the Code to stop stories being manipulated - and a death or illness exploited.

My brother, Felix Schroer, died on 20th March 2020. He had worked for the soap Hollyoaks and his employers of 20 years, Lime Pictures, announced the closing of production at the same time as issuing a press release about my brother's death, which clearly stated that the family were not connecting the unexplained sudden death with Covid 19. We had no idea why my brother had suddenly died.

Desperate for a celebrity Covid 19 story, my Twitter feed was mined by the press and comments I made in a tweet were taken completely out of context. The press misrepresented what I said to suggest that I had 'confirmed' my brother had died in 'fear of the virus' or suspected that he had it. In this way the death could be linked with the closure of the soap due to Covid 19, when in fact it was just coincidental. Felix had explained the soap would probably close to me the day before he died. As I explained on Twitter, anyone with a persistent cough would be concerned about Covid 19 in the pandemic - and on its own this was not a news story at all. We wanted answers about why my brother died and I hadn't confirmed anything. No one ever spoke to me to make sure they had understood the points I was trying to make.

I am a health professional/health researcher and use Twitter for campaigning and raising awareness about political and social injustices - and I had every right, as a citizen, to question the government's policies on Covid 19 testing - asking why some people were getting tests and other's weren't. I had a right to ask questions about why my brother might have died - whilst also saying we must wait for answers, which I did.

The day after the press reports, the coroner called me to say the post mortem we had been informed would take place might not happen - if Felix had died from a pre-existing condition there was no need for a post mortem. Even IPSO asked me if I had indeed tweeted a particular tweet before the post mortem. I had to point out the press coverage may have jeopardised the post mortem ever taking place. I wrote to the coroner. I explained that my brother had experienced what he felt was a very strange reaction to taking the antibiotic medication doxycycline, which was prescribed for a chest infection. The coroner agreed to conduct a post mortem after our conversation and a post mortem was done on 27th March. This examination revealed my brother had very clearly died of a heart attack - there was no respiratory infection at all. I then completed an MHRA (Medicines Health Regulation Authority) Yellow Card to report the Adverse Drug Reaction as a cardiac adverse reaction and I reported the drug was linked with a fatality.

I informed my brother's employers about the heart attack on 27th March but still - two weeks after my brother's employers had learned the cause of death, the tabloids continued with the story relating the death to Covid 19. This happened after Felix's colleagues at Lime Pictures paid a tribute to him, (which he would have very much enjoyed), by wearing blue, the colour of the football team he supported. The story was again taken from social media. His work colleagues who wanted to honour Felix ended up feeling devastated they had caused upset to the family - who had been extremely distressed by the press coverage. But this was not their fault. Even though it was my twitter feed that had been used to create the false narrative, ever since March 31st, Felix's employers, Lime Pictures, ceased communication with me. The company stonewalls me and neither Felix's oldest and closest friend or I cannot get them to deal with the press to put things right - they just do not answer our emails. This is absolutely devastating for us as all this only happened because of Felix's connection to Hollyoaks as he is not a celebrity or famous person. This story should have been corrected immediately after the company learned my brother died of a heart attack. They should also have denied links made between the closure of the soap and the death of my brother. The argument I found myself confronted with, before communication with me ceased, was that there was no shame in dying of Covid 19.

The real story was the missed illness in the pandemic - and the fact that so many more may die of heart disease when the symptoms are so similar to respiratory illness. Felix's respiratory symptoms resulted from pulmonary oedema - fluid on the lungs - because his heart was increasingly failing - not an infection. Patients with heart disease need to be carefully triaged in this pandemic or their illness will be missed - as my brother's was. I just wanted something positive to come out of my brother's death for others. I hope this petition will raise awareness - to help others with heart disease.

The least my brother deserves after such a tragic and potentially preventable death is accurate reporting about why he died. This isn't about blaming anyone in the medical profession - it is about appreciating there may be uncertainties and challenges when people are ill and in death and relatives have every right to ask questions without fear they will be targeted to create false narratives.

Anyone who has lost a brother or sister will know just how hard this is - especially when the death comes out of the blue like it did. I should not have had to deal with all this on top of his death.

I would like IPSO to clarify the way that social media can be used by the press in illness and death so this doesn't happen again.

How it will be delivered

I will deliver the signatures in person. I have a complaint with IPSO about what happened and as an outcome I would like wording of the Editor's Code to be amended so there is total clarity about the press use of an individual's social media - in cases of illness and death.


Reasons for signing

  • I am concerned that all lessons be learned from the death of such a fine man.
  • Felix looks like he was a nice man. I am sorry for you and your family.
  • Felix was my uncle and it's horrible how the media has chosen to handle this. Something needs to be done about it.

Updates

2020-05-14 13:38:15 +0100

100 signatures reached

2020-05-10 07:13:47 +0100

50 signatures reached

2020-05-09 12:45:45 +0100

25 signatures reached

2020-05-09 00:14:10 +0100

10 signatures reached