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Paper rapped after victims of sexual assault identified

A Scottish daily has been rapped by the Press Complaints Commission after it published material which led to two children who were victims of sexual assault being identified.

Two complaints have been upheld against Dundee-based daily The Courier after it reported on a hearing in which a man had admitted sexual offences against two girls, both of whom where under 16 when the crimes occurred.

The newspaper’s article, which was published in January, made reference to the locations where the offences had taken place, including the names of the streets – two of which were the streets where the victims lived.

Their mothers complained separately to the PCC that because there were relatively few houses on the roads in question and because their daughters’ ages had been stated, both children had been identified to those in their local communities.

The Commission upheld the complaints by the mothers, saying it was a “bad mistake” by the newspaper and it now intends to issue new guidance later this year to prevent similar breaches of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

In responding to the complaints, the paper accepted its normal practice of only publishing outline details of cases involving sexual offences had not been properly followed.

It removed the partial addresses from its online archive and circulated a note to staff reminding them of their obligations under the Code, while the editor sent letters of apology to each complainant.

The Commission welcomed these steps but concluded the failure of the newspaper to properly consider the likely consequences of publishing information in the report was “serious”.

It said it had upheld other complaints under Clauses 7 (Children in sex cases) and 11 (Victims of sexual assault) over the last year and given the potential for harm, it has decided to issue new guidance for the industry.

PCC director Stephen Abell said: “The Editors’ Code is very clear about the identification of victims of sexual assault.  In the vast majority of reports about sexual crimes, newspapers take great care to abide by these requirements.

“However, if in doubt, newspapers should always err on the side of caution when considering what details to publish. 

“The Commission is committed to ensuring the highest standards in this area. The PCC seeks always to help vulnerable people in its work, and it is hard to think of an issue more important than the protection of victims of sexual assault.

“That is why we will shortly be issuing guidance to help prevent any future breaches of the Code from occurring.”

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  • April 26, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    No need for “new guidance”.

    The old guidance would be enough.

    It just required someone at the paper to read it.

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