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Weekly rapped for reporting terror victim’s death before family were told

IPSO_logo_newA weekly newspaper has been rapped by the press watchdog for reporting a terrorist attack victim’s death before it had been confirmed to her family.

Lincolnshire Police, on behalf of the family of Carly Lovett, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Lincolnshire Echo breached Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article wich appeared online on 26 June 2015.

The article reported Ms Lovett had been killed in the Tunisia terror attack earlier that day, which claimed 38 lives.

However the police forece said that reporting Ms Lovett’s death as fact before it had been confirmed to her family had caused enormous upset at an already highly distressing time.

In a ruling published yesterday, IPSO said: “The publication of the information that Ms Lovett had died, so soon after the attack and before it had been confirmed to her immediate family, was a serious failure to handle publication sensitively and a breach of Clause 5.”

While acknowledging that the newspaper was entitled to report on a local connection to the attack, the regulator said it had “a responsibility to ensure in doing so that its report was accurate and that it was prepared with appropriate regard for the position of those most directly concerned:  Ms Lovett’s surviving family.”

The article had been published at 8.57 pm, when the family knew only that Ms Lovett had been involved in the attack and had been injured.

Her fiancé had only identified her body and then informed the rest of the family of her death after midnight.

The Echo responded it had waited several hours to publish the information, until it had received confirmation from multiple sources that it considered to be reliable that Ms Lovett had died and that the family were aware.

A reporter had received a call at 2.30pm from a reliable source, who had informed them that Ms Lovett had been involved in the attack and had died. Reporters had then contacted various family, friends and colleagues of Ms Lovett.

One source, who was close to the family, had confirmed that Ms Lovett had been killed. At around 5pm, a reporter had spoken to her step-father, who had declined his request to comment on Ms Lovett’s “involvement” in the attack.

An hour later another source, a friend of Ms Lovett’s, confirmed that Ms Lovett had been killed, and that her death was being discussed among friends as fact.

Later that evening, the reporter spoke again to the first source, who confirmed that Ms Lovett’s family were fully aware that she had died in the attack. A reporter had also telephoned Lincolnshire Police to make enquiries, but they were not aware of any local involvement in the attack.

The newspaper noted that the attacks in Tunisia were of international importance, and that in such cases editors had a responsibility to keep the public informed.

Its confidential sources were reliable and close to the family and it could not have known that Ms Lovett’s family had retained some hope that she had survived the attack at the time of publication.

Nonetheless, the Echo apologised for any further distress that the article had caused to the family, and offered to write personal letters of apology to Ms Lovett’s parents, as a means of resolving the complaint.

IPSO said it was foreseeable, in the aftermath of a terrorist attack that had taken place overseas, that there would be uncertainty among the families of those involved back in the UK as to the fates of their relatives for some hours, or potentially days.

Contradictory and premature reports were highly likely, given the chaos caused by the attack and the difficulties of communicating with overseas survivors and emergency services.

The newspaper was entitled to report on a local connection to the attack, and the Committee acknowledged that it had not intended to cause any distress. However, it had a responsibility to ensure in doing so that its report was accurate and that it was prepared with appropriate regard for the position of Ms Lovett’s surviving family.

The claims by the newspaper’s confidential sources that the family had been told, definitely, of Ms Lovett’s death were evidently inaccurate. Neither the death nor the family’s knowledge of it had been confirmed by any official source.

As the newspaper had relied solely on confidential sources, it had been unable to show that it had taken appropriate care before it took the decision to publish to ensure that the family knew Ms Lovett had been killed.

It had therefore failed to demonstrate to the Committee that it had acted with the level of sensitivity required by the Code, and represented a serious failure to handle publication sensitively and a breach of Clause 5.

The complaint was upheld, and the publication of the adjudication was ordered to appear on the Echo’s website.

The full adjudication can be read here.

3 comments

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  • November 2, 2015 at 2:11 pm
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    So the Echo CORRECTLY reports a death after doing everything right. They were CORRECT. And now they get hauled over the coals for not waiting until the awful local police communications team confirm it days and days later!
    I think this must be the first instance of a paper getting told off for doing something accurately!

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  • November 3, 2015 at 5:17 pm
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    Ken, in difficult cases like this, the reporter should always wait until official confirmation. It’s the right thing to do, regardless of how desperately you want to get people reading your article.

    You can’t just claim to have ‘reliable sources’ as it means nothing. It’s about as respectful as saying ‘some bloke in the supermarket said so’. When you can say ‘police or the Foreign Office have confirmed that…’, then you are right to report on it.

    Perhaps the Echo needs to spend some time developing a better relationship with the comms team at Lincolnshire Police?

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  • November 4, 2015 at 10:06 am
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    I’m with Dave on this one. You need to have cast-iron confirmation from an official source that the victim’s family has been informed before you publish a story saying that a person is dead.

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