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Weeklies apologise to NHS bosses over petition

A group of newspapers in Sussex apologised to NHS bosses over a petition ‘coupon’ urging readers to write to ministers in protest at a local hospital shake-up.

The coupons appeared in the Hastings & St Leonards Observer, Rye & Battle Observer and Bexhill-on-Sea Observer on 21 September last year.

It followed an announcement by local NHS chiefs of a plan to move some services previously provided at Hastings’ Conquest Hospital to Eastbourne.

East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust complained to the Press Complaints Commission over the coupons and the papers agreed to carry a clarification and apology.

It read: “A petition coupon published on Friday 21st September with the headline “Join the fight by writing to minister” stated that “a significant majority of senior clinicians at the Conquest” have profound concerns about the proposed reconfiguration of clinical services at the Conquest hospital.

“We are happy to make clear that the Chair of the Consultants Representative Committee (the Medical  Advisory Committee) and East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust have stated that the statement was factually incorrect. We apologise for any misunderstanding that may have resulted from the coupon.”

The newspapers also ran a statement from the Trust setting out in details its reasons for the changes.

It said: “East Sussex is not immune to the need to create safe sustainable services for the future within the current financial climate – clearly no change is not an option and  we cannot just carry on as we are.

“The local people are quite rightly passionate about their hospitals, as are we, and we firmly believe this decision will significantly improve the quality of treatment that patients receive in stroke care, emergency and higher risk planned general surgery and emergency and higher risk planned orthopaedic services.”

Other recently resolved PCC cases involving local newspapers include:

Darling v Berwickshire News

Andrew Darling complained under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editor’s Code about an article on the response to his proposals for the construction of a wind turbine.

The complaint was resolved after the PCC negotiated the publication of the following correction and apology:

“In an article dated 08 November, about a proposal for the construction of a wind turbine by Mr Andrew Darling, we incorrectly stated that there was “overwhelming opposition” to the proposal. We accept that a majority of Hume residents who wrote to Scottish Borders Council planning department were in support of the application. We stated also that local B and B operators had raised concerns that this would negatively impact on tourism. We accept that this cannot be substantiated and would like to apologise, unreservedly, to Mr Andrew Darling for the mistakes.”

A woman v Guernsey Press & Star

A woman complained under Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) that an article reporting on the death of her step-father was insensitive.

The matter was resolved when the PCC negotiated a private letter of apology for the complainant.

Logan v East Riding Mail

Mrs Elizabeth Logan complained under Clause 1 (Accuracy) about an article which reported on allegations made about her during court proceedings. The complainant considered that this was misleading.

The complaint was resolved after the PCC negotiated the removal of the article online.

Brown v North Somerset Times

Nigel Brown complained under Clause 1 (Accuracy) that the newspaper had published a court report stating that he was convicted for assault but had failed to report that the conviction was later overturned, with the judge making clear in his summation that the matter should never have been brought to court in the first place.

The complainant considered that the newspaper should have checked whether he had intended to appeal his conviction and took the view that without a follow-up article readers would be misled as to the outcome of his case.

The complaint was resolved directly between the parties when the newspaper published a follow-up item which read:

“In the October 17 edition of the Times, Nigel Brown, aged 53 of Leighwood Drive, Nailsea, was included in our In the Dock listing after being convicted at North Somerset Courthouse of assault by beating.  The Times is happy to confirm Mr Brown has since been cleared of this charge following an appeal, which was allowed by Bristol Crown Court on November 30.”

Bryce v The Scotsman

Robert Bryce complained under Clause 1 (Accuracy) about an article which inaccurately reported that a letter from Jose Manuel Barroso had been sent to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee. In fact, the letter was still to be sent, and had arrived the following week.

The complaint was resolved as the newspaper had published the following correction and apology:

“In a report yesterday headlined “Brussels: separate Scotland must apply to join EU” we said that the European Commission had written a letter to the House of Lords economic affairs committee saying it was its view that if Scotland voted for independence, then the newly-created independent state would have to apply for membership of the EU in the normal manner.

“Although we are confident, as we report president Jose Manuel Barroso’s statement today, that the commission’s view of the legal position outlined was accurate, we were wrong to say a letter had been sent to the Lords committee in response to a question about Scotland. We understand that Mr Barroso’s response has not yet been sent to the committee. We apologise sincerely for the error.”

Gibson v The Northern Echo

Councillor Brian Gibson complained under Clause 1 (Accuracy) about an article which reported on a police incident at a meeting of Ferryhill Town Council.

The complaint was resolved after the PCC negotiated the publication of the following clarification:

“On October 12, The Northern Echo published an article reporting that police officers were called to Ferryhill Town Council to eject councillors Brian Gibson and Tommy Garrett after a row broke out.

“The report included the fact that both men left the meeting peacefully when three police officers arrived to resolve the dispute, and we would like to re-emphasise that this was the case.

“It also accurately quoted council leader Pat McCourt as saying Councillor Gibson’s behavior “was upsetting some members and a member of staff had felt bullied and intimidated.”

“Our reporter called Councillor Gibson to make him aware that Councillor McCourt had said the police were called because of the atmosphere created by the behavior of the two members.

“In the interest of resolving a complaint that has been made to the Press Complaints Commission, the Northern Echo is happy to report that Councillor Gibson was not made aware that Councillor McCourt had described that behaviour as “bullying” until after they were published. The Northern Echo is also happy to report that Councillor Gibson strongly denies the said allegations.”

A woman v Lancashire Telegraph

A woman complained under Clauses 1 (Accuracy) and 3 (Privacy) over an article about her wedding.

The newspaper did not accept that there had been a breach of the Code. However, given the complainant’s concerns about threats to her safety which, she said, were a result of publication, the newspaper removed the article from its website as a gesture of goodwill.

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  • January 15, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    The often nonsensical use of the term ‘clarification’ was debated on this site last week. Today, in your lead item above, we see a classic example of its mis-use. The newspaper series concerned was surely required to publish a correction, not a clarification, over a piece of work that seems to have been poorly researched and rushed into print. It is a harsh reminder that group space filling in the guise of a local campaign can have harmful and embarrassing consequences.

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