April, May & June 2001
Adjudication of a complaint against the Glasgow Evening Times
Complaints under Clauses 1, 5:
Mrs Sheena Glass of Old Kilpatrick complained on behalf of her daughter-in-law that an article published in the Glasgow Evening Times on 15 January headlined “Mum’s grief at death of transplant toddler” was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) and had intruded into the family’s grief in breach of Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Code of Practice.
She also complained that a reporter had approached her daughter-in-law in breach of Clause 5 of the Code.
The complaints were not upheld:
The article reported the death of the complainant’s grandson and quoted his mother’s response. Two years previously, the child had received ‘groundbreaking’ transplant surgery which had resulted in widespread publicity with which the family and hospital had co-operated.
The complainant stated that permission had not been given for the article to be published following the child’s death: indeed, the family had informed the newspaper through the funeral directors and telephone calls that it did not want any further publicity and the child’s mother had ‘made it very clear’ to a visiting reporter that she did not want the story to be published.
The mother had eventually spoken to the reporter as she appeared sympathetic to her situation but the article gave the misleading impression that the mother had spoken freely to the reporter and inaccurately stated the date of the child’s death.
The newspaper said that its reporter had first approached the funeral directors who directed her to speak to the family. She went to the family home and left a note requesting an interview and, as the newspaper had no record of the complainant’s message that the family did not want any publicity, she went once again to the family home seeking an interview.
While the child’s mother had initially been reluctant to talk, she had subsequently discussed her son’s death with the reporter. The woman was aware of the reporter’s identity and at no time was it stated that the story would not be the subject of an article. The newspaper apologised if the reporter’s approach or the article had added to the family’s grief, although the editor stated that this was not of course the paper’s intention. He also apologised for any inaccuracy concerning the date of the child’s death.
The Commission first considered whether the reporter’s approach to the complainant’s daughter-in-law had abided by the terms of the Code. There were differing accounts about whether the newspaper had been aware of the family’s wish prior to the reporter’s approach to the child’s mother, the nature of that approach and whether or not it had been made clear that the subsequent conversation would form the basis of an article. While the Commission could make no ruling on these clearly irreconcilable points it was pleased to note that the editor had apologised promptly to the family following publication for any unintended distress caused.
It was apparent to the Commission both that the newspaper’s reporter had initially identified herself to the mother and that – albeit reluctantly at first – the mother had spoken openly to the reporter about the death of her son. The Commission stressed that Clause 5 of the Code requires that approaches in times of grief be made “with sympathy and discretion” and that publication “must be handled sensitively at such times”.
The Commission did not find that either the reporter’s conduct during the interview nor the published article itself – which was published some time after the child’s death – had breached the Code. It further considered that the publication of the article, though understandably painful to the family, was of legitimate public interest given the previous extensive press coverage concerning the child’s medical history.
The Commission finally considered the complaint of inaccuracy relating to the day the child had died. While the Commission was concerned that a date of such painful importance to the family had been wrongly stated in the article, it noted that the newspaper had apologised for this error and any distress it had caused.
While it sympathised with the family, the Commission considered that this was not a matter which raised a breach of the Code within the context of the article as a whole.
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