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Newspaper’s hospital interview was in breach of editor’s code

A complaint about a newspaper’s story on an attack victim obtained after a reporter visited a hospital to speak to the man has been upheld by the Press Complaints Commission.

The complaint against the Essex Chronicle from the Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust was upheld under Clause 8 (Hospitals) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

The victim had received serious head injuries and was in a stroke unit when the reporter visited with the victim’s parents.

He did not notify the hospital trust of his intentions and a health care support worker who had supervised the visit said she had asked the reporter who he was and the patient’s father had replied that he was ‘from the court.’

The health care support worker added that she did not see the reporter use a notebook and simply asked the patient how he was.

The ward sister later said the patient had not been aware that he was speaking to a journalist and was upset when he was told about the article.

Chronicle editor Alan Geere said he was disappointed with the decision: “We view this very much as a technical breach of the code. We were invited to the bedside by the family, wrote a fair and balanced report and received no complaint from anyone except the hospital,’ he said.

“The PCC acknowledge the public interest in the story and we are very disappointed that our vigourous, campaigning style of journalism has resulted in this public slap on the wrists.”

The newspaper said that it had been invited by the patient’s parents to conduct the interview in the hospital, and that the reporter had made clear both his status as a reporter, and the newspaper for which he worked, to hospital staff.

It believed the patient had provided his consent and said he had carried a notepad and a camera. The newspaper also said a nurse had been present and another member of staff had given advice on how it should be reported.

In its adjudication, the commission recognised that there was a ‘significant dispute’ about what had been said by the journalist, and to whom, at the hospital, in terms of his status as a reporter.

It was not in a position to resolve the conflict, but was still able to conclude that there had been a breach of the Code.

It said that the reporter “could have acted to ensure that there was no uncertainty about his identification and that the necessary permission had been obtained from a responsible executive before entering the unit where the patient was being treated”.

As the conversation in which the journalist had allegedly identified himself had been with staff in the stroke unit, he had already entered a “non-public” area of the hospital.

Under the terms of Clause 8, “appropriate permission should have been sought well before entering this area”.

The commission did not consider that the general public interest in this case was sufficient to justify the manner which the material had been obtained.

Stephen Abell, Director of the PCC, said: “The protection of an individual’s privacy – particularly those who are most vulnerable – is paramount in the Editors’ Code, and Clause 8 is clear in the need for identity and consent to be properly established at an early stage”.



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  • August 30, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    The PCC is in a funk because it’s being portrayed as both toothless and naive in its dealings with the nationals.

    So as per usual when it comes under fire, it’s doing its usual ton of bricks routine with the regionals.

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