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London weekly rapped over coverage of rape case

A weekly newspaper in South London has been criticised by the press watchdog over its coverage of an alleged rape which could have helped identify the victim.

The News Shopper published a report in its Bexley and North Kent edition in February 2013 about a police investigation into a sexual assault.

The online version of the story included a photograph of the site of the incident, which was the victim’s home, and video footage of police officers entering her property.

A woman subsequently complained to the Press Complaints Commission that this had identified her as the victim, and the watchdog upheld the complaint in a ruling published today.

It said:  “The online version of the story included a photograph of the site where it had occurred, including clearly recognisable shop fronts, along with video footage of forensic officers entering the property.

“The text of the story identified the locality and road. In fact, the site was the victim’s home. The complainant, the victim of the assault, said that friends and relatives had seen the coverage and subsequently contacted her about the report.”

The newspaper accepted that it had published information which had led to the complainant’s identification and offered to apologise to her privately.

It said the police had not initially advised the paper that the incident had taken place at the victim’s home, and that the images and video were removed immediately when it became aware of this.

In its adjudication, the Commission ruled that the newspaper had breached the terms of Clause 11 of the Editor’s Code which covers victims of sexual assault.

It said:  “The images and footage enabled easy identification of the property’s precise location, with the inevitable, and distressing, result that the complainant had faced inquiries from friends and family who had been unaware of the incident previously.

“While the Commission noted the newspaper’s position that it had not been advised of the complainant’s connection to the property where the alleged attack had occurred, it emphasised that the responsibility for published material lay with the editor.”

“The images and video plainly had the potential to contribute to identification of the victim, and the Commission therefore upheld the complaint about the online coverage.”

Charlotte Dewar, the PCC’s director of complaints and pre-publication services, said: “Victims of sexual assault have a fundamental right to expect that they will not be identified in any media coverage of their case.

“In this instance, unusually, the breach established by the Commission related to the images and video that accompanied the story as opposed to details in the text itself. But in all cases, the consequences for victims of editorial mistakes in this area can be devastating.

“This ruling should remind editors that the strict requirements of the Code apply to all aspects of editorial coverage.”


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  • July 3, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    Jeez. The News Shopper. What was it last month? The editor “sparking debate” about forcing women to be sterilised if their kids misbehave or something.
    Only I think he called it “neutered” – you know, like you do with dogs.

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  • July 3, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    And before that it was an editorial calling for the return of the death penalty, I believe. Immature shock tactics are one thing, but when you identify a rape victim a line has been crossed.

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  • July 3, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    The lack of meaningful recourse here – a private apology to the victim (probably over the phone) – is why newspapers can take a punt at breaking long-established editorial guidelines, as well as the law, to grab readers in an attempt to shift copies and boost ad revenue. While Leveson’s proposals may not be the answer for long-term regulation of newspapers, it is abundantly clear that there needs to be effective, independent regulation that allows such victims access to pursue proper justice. I wish a lot of newspapers would simply dispense with the idea that they are there to hold public institutions to account and so on – media groups are businesses like any other, and content is what they sell.

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  • July 4, 2013 at 9:43 am

    So, no-one thought to ask whether it was the victim’s home?

    Welcome to a world without subs, especially when things go online.

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