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Daily apologises over ‘inaccurate’ Facebook post story

A newspaper has published a correction and apology after inaccurately reporting that a man had been jailed for posting a Facebook birthday message to his son.

A complaint was made to the Press Complaints Commission about an article in the Basildon Echo published on 7 June last year headlined “Dad jailed for 21st birthday wishes to son”.

The female complainant said the story, which was about her former husband, was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) and intrusive in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

In an adjudication about the case, the PCC found that the paper had failed to take care not to publish inaccurate information in breach of Clause 1 but had offered sufficient action to remedy the breach, while the complaint under Clause 3 was not upheld.

The article in question reported that the father had been found in contempt of court and imprisoned in May 2013 for breaching a 2007 “gagging order” by posting a 21st birthday message to his son on Facebook.

The story, which named the complainant and the town she lived in, also reported that following their “bitter divorce” in 2005, she had made “unproven claims” about her former husband’s mental health and his ability to care for their two sons.

The complainant denied that she had raised concerns about her former husband’s mental health or that she had complained to social service that he was “neglecting” their children, while she also considered that her identification in the report was an intrusion into her privacy.

In responding to the complaint, the newspaper said it had seen the judge’s notes from the May hearing which demonstrated that the Facebook greeting had been mentioned and her former husband maintained it had been a factor in his case.

It also said the man had been serving a suspended sentence following a judgement in September 2011 that he had breached the order by posting about his children on Facebook.

However, it accepted that the birthday greeting was not the primary basis on which he had been sentenced in May.

The title therefore offered to publish a correction on page 5 acknowledging that the man “was not jailed for the Facebook message alone”, and that he had “made earlier postings which were not on Facebook”, along with an apology for any upset caused.

The newspaper added that documentation released by the local council by a order of the court proved the complainant had raised concerns about her former husband’s mental health and his ability to care for their children.

In its adjudication, the PCC ruled that the newspaper had not taken enough care over the accuracy of the story, which had claimed as fact that the man had been jailed over the Facebook message and made no mention of the earlier breach.

It said the newspaper had accepted that the committal hearing followed on from proceedings that predated the Facebook message, which had not been the sole reason for the man’s imprisonment.

The Commission said: “The newspaper’s offer of remedy….struck an appropriate balance on this point, and its prompt publication would be sufficient to meet the newspaper’s obligation to correct significantly misleading information.”

In its adjudication, the PCC found that the complainant’s other concerns under Clause 1 and 3 were not breaches of the Code.

It said that the man’s imprisonment stemmed directly from their dispute over custody of the children and in this context her identification by name and the rough area in which she lived was not a breach of Clause 3.