31 July 2014

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Scottish daily apologises to family of murdered schoolgirl

A Scottish daily newspaper has apologised to the parents of a murdered schoolgirl who they claim was inaccurately portrayed in the press as a bully.

Diane Watson, 16, was stabbed to death by fellow pupil Barbara Glover during the morning break at Whitehill Secondary School in Glasgow in April 1991.

Glasgow daily The Herald published a piece shortly afterwards by columnist Jack McLean which her parents claim misreported details of her murder.

Giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry on press standards yesterday, Margaret and James Watson claimed the negative reporting had later contributed to the suicide of their 15-year-old son Alan in 1992.

Alan was found holding copies of articles about his sister from The Herald newspaper and Marie Claire magazine, the inquiry heard.

Criticising Mr McLean’s coverage of the story, the Watsons called for a change in libel laws so newspapers could be sued for defaming the dead.

Said Mrs Watson:  “He picked an individual case he knew nothing about to spearhead this campaign, which he’s absolutely no right to do.

“If journalists want to do campaigns for anyone about anything, they must ensure they have all the facts before them before they start delving into people’s private lives and causing other tragedies to take place.”

“Just because a person has died, their reputation shouldn’t die with them. They shouldn’t be besmirched at the will of a sick journalist,” she added.

The Scottish Government has launched a consultation on whether it should change the libel laws to protect the reputation of the dead.

The publishers of The Herald said in a statement: “Comments critical of Herald columns published after the 1991 murder of 16-year-old Glasgow schoolgirl Diane Watson were made at today’s Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press.

“The Herald and Times Group deeply regrets any action which added to the Watson family’s grief over the tragic loss of their daughter and later their son.

“The columns were published some 20 years ago when the group was under different ownership and editorial control, and the freelance columnist involved has not worked for the company for some years.

“The Herald and Times Group is committed to the highest quality of journalism and accuracy in its reporting and analysis and adheres to the Press Complaints Commission code of conduct.”

4 Comments

  1. Paper watcher

    What a sad and sorry mess! It seems that newspapers have had a free hand for years to do what they want and say what they want.

    The problem is that when someone dies, they have no protection and the press publish all sorts of things. Where was this reporter’s humanity?

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  2. Golam Murtaza

    Just out of interest, was Jack McLean a ‘reporter’ or a ‘columnist’? Or was he both? I only ask because I’m uncomfortable about any blurring of the distinction between editorial staff paid to write their own opinions and those employed to report news.

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  3. Flora McCallum, Glasgow

    I read Jack McLean’s articles- they were poignant and measured. I shed a tear at the time and have never forgotton his report from the trial. He described a teenager in the dock so petrified that she wet herself. He asked if this was the best way to deal with teenagers who had commited serious crimes – trial in adult court. He was exploring what led her to that dark place. It was not sick, or exploitative. A later Marie Claire article interviewed children in secure units, including the girl who murdered Dianne Watson. Again, it was exploring what led them to this. I am afraid the Watsons have been overcome with anguish for 20 years and they need someone to blame. But these articles were not gutter journalism.

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  4. Collette Snowden, Adelaide, Australia

    Fiona McCallum makes a dispassionate third party observation, and reveals the failure to understand what misrepresentation in the media does to the subject of it, and their family. It is very easy to be objective when it is not you or anyone you know that is, however, obliquely, misrepresented, slurred, or impuned – when there is no right of reply. Too often journalists forget this, and forget that language is capable of suggesting, implying, inferring and in numerous other ways can be used to reframe the facts e.g. if I said Ms McCallum’s view was “typically Scottish” a reader will project some meaning onto that phrase – when none is intended, it’s just an example. Absolutely the Watson’s need someone to blame! What is wrong with that – I am afraid that the media too often want to use situations without taking responsibility for the consequences. In the case of the Watsons the questions to be answered are – why did neither of the journalists speak DIRECTLY to the Watsons BEFORE publishing their articles – surely that was the least that they could do given the circumstances, and was Alan Watson holding the media reports in question about his sister for no reason connected to them ?

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