Editors are being told to remember the rules when it comes to reporting sex cases after a series of complaints involving regional titles.
The Press Complaints Commission has published a guidance note following five complaints that have been upheld over the past year regarding victims being identified in newspaper reports – four of which were directed at local and regional newspapers.
Although three of the newspapers concerned did not actually name the victims, they included other details which could lead to so-called jigsaw identification.
Local newspapers against which complaints have been upheld over the past year included:
- Staffordshire Newsletter. A grandfather complained that information together with a photograph of a man convicted of sex abuse could lead to the victim being identified by implying the connection between the accused and his victim
- Southern Daily Echo. A woman complained that her teenage daughter could be identified through the newspaper’s report which included her age and the dates of the offence. It also alluded to the man’s profession and named his place of work.
- The Courier, Dundee. Two women said their daughters were identified as victims of sexual assault through an article which contained the names of the streets the girls lived on and their ages.
- Aldershot News and Mail. In this case, branded “shocking” by the PCC, two female victims of sexual assault were actually identified by name.
PCC director Stephen Abell said the anonymity of victims of sexual assault is under the Editor’s Code of Practice is “absolutely paramount.”
He said: “Following several recent cases in which the Commission has found breaches of the Code, it felt it was important to produce the note to minimise the risk of further mistakes being made.
“Although breaches are almost always inadvertent (and can result from the inclusion of a seemingly innocuous detail), the consequences can be so severe that it is right that the commission has taken the initiative to draw together its thinking in this area.
“This forms part of the Commission’s on-going work to raise standards throughout the industry.”
Other earlier cases cited by the PCC included an article in the Kidderminster Shuttle which named a defendant who had met his victim at a churchyard.
Although the newspaper didn’t name the church, the complainant said that the references to a church would have made it clear how her daughter and the defendant knew each other.
In another upheld complaint, a sexual assault victim had suffered a specific injury during a lesson given by the accused who had been his teacher.
Even though it had happened years before, people who went to school with the man would have been able to identify him in the article in the Barking and Dagenham Post.
Other cases saw a complaint from Thames Valley Police about the likelihood of a teenage victim being identified following an article in the Metro which contained information about a specific form of cancer she had suffered from.
The press watchdog said the aim of issuing the new guidance was to remind editors of the Code of Practice’s provisions in that area and to explain how the requirements of the code can best be met.