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Weekly rapped over confidentiality after teacher’s IPSO complaint

A deputy headteacher’s complaint over an inaccuracy in a weekly newspaper’s story about a partnership between schools has been partially upheld by the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

The Wetherby News has also been ordered by the regulator to raise its staff’s awareness of the appropriate confidentiality procedure for complainants’ correspondence, after details of the teacher’s initial grievance were passed by the newspaper to her employer and a local councillor.

Anna Rooney complained to IPSO under Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice over a story which inaccurately claimed a local school had been rated “outstanding” by Ofsted.

She initially contacted the News to suggest the inaccuracy could mislead parents seeking school placements for their children, but decided not to pursue the issue any further.

However she later learned that information about her complaint had been passed to a local councillor and her employer, at which point she complained to IPSO.

She said that the disclosure of information about her complaint had represented an intrusion into her privacy and had caused her significant embarrassment and distress.

After receiving her complaint via IPSO the News offered to print a correction about the school’s rating on its front page.

It added that the reporter concerned had received two complaints about the accuracy of the article, and had been concerned a campaign was being mounted against the school involved.

They had then spoken to a local contact to ask if they knew who the complainant was – disclosing her name and the fact she had complained about the article.

The News said its journalist had emphasised the confidential nature of her query to the third party and the contact confirmed the information would not be passed on, a declaration on which they later reneged.

This breach of confidence was described as “a matter of regret, but not the responsibility of the newspaper” by the News.

IPSO ruled the inaccuracy was “significant in the context of the report” and that the News had “not explained persuasively” why it had disclosed information about the complainant to a third party, which represented “extremely poor practice”.

The regulator added: “The publication will be required to take further steps to ensure that its staff are aware of the proper operation of its complaints procedure, and to provide assurances to IPSO that it has taken steps to implement an appropriate confidentiality procedure for complainants’ correspondence, including clear guidance as to when and how such correspondence may be disclosed to third parties.”

The complaint was upheld in part under Clause 1 and the full adjudication can be read here.

Other recent cases ruled upon by IPSO include the following:

* The watchdog rejected a complaint against the Lancaster Guardian by the family of a man on whose inquest it reported.

The coroner concluded Paul Tidswell had taken his own life with a shotgun, and his aunt Anne Hartley complained the Guardian had used excessive detail about the nature of his death.

She further claimed the article contained inaccuracies concerning his age, details of his health, the circumstances in which he had been found, and the state of the shotgun.

While she did not frame her complaint under Clause 1 (Accuracy), and emphasised that she was not seeking a correction, she considered that this represented a failure to handle publication of the report sensitively.

She said some of the disputed claims originated with a statement by a family member, which had been read out in court; the family member had been extremely traumatised at the time he had given the statement, and the newspaper should have taken greater care to report it in a sensitive manner.

The complainant also argued the newspaper referring to the man’s mother by her first name and placing the article beneath a separate item about some of the newspaper’s journalists winning an award was “disrespectful”.

The Guardian responded the claims disputed on factual grounds originated from information reported in court and published in good faith, but was happy to clarify his age.

It apologised for any distress caused by the placement of the article and confirmed the use of the man’s mother’s first name was reporting procedure.

IPSO decided not to uphold the complaint under Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock).

The full adjudication can be read here.

* Lord Harley, also known as Alan Blacker, complained to the IPSO  that Wales Online had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) in a report about him being reprimanded by a judge for appearing in court wearing “ribbons and badges” on his robes.

He also complained Wales online had refused to reveal a source which had described him as a “Walter Mitty character”.

The complaint was not upheld and can be viewed in full here.

* James Millar complained to the regulator under Clause 1 (Accuracy) over the Perthshire Advertiser’s report of his wife’s appearance in court.

He said the article had omitted his wife’s defence, despite a detailed account of the charges against her.

The Advertiser said the report was not inaccurate and had clearly stated she had been found not guilty, but acknowledged the article had not sufficiently reflected her perspective.

It explained the freelance court reporter who provided the copy had attended the portions of the proceedings in which the prosecution presented its case and the pronouncement of the verdict.

An offer to publish a follow-up piece with the complainant’s wife’s response to the case, as well as an apology, was rejected.

The IPSO committee expressed “serious concern” about the way the newspaper had reported the case, but did not uphold the complaint due to the accuracy of the article’s material not being in dispute.

The full adjudication can be read here.


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  • March 18, 2015 at 9:32 am

    The last case about “serious concern” over incomplete reporting of a court case, even an acquittal, raises a serious issue which most papers seem to have luckily avoided.
    A lot of papers rely on press releases from police and local authorities if they do not attend court. Understandably these only give one side of the case, usually with no mitigation or defence argument. They are usually published pretty much as sent in, with no attempt at getting the other side.
    I wonder what IPSO might make of these incomplete reports?

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  • March 18, 2015 at 9:58 am

    Although statements from cops etc have qualified privilege, they do not usually meet the full requirements of fairness in reporting criminal court cases.
    True, the report does not not have to be complete (ie every word uttered) BUT it does have to be “fair and accurate” and balanced.
    Printing a report where only the prosecution side is given might be considered by some to be unfair, even if someone is found guilty.
    Fortunately for the media most defendants, and I suspect their lawyers, are unaware of the right to a balanced report, so there are very few complaints made. Ignorance is bliss for us in this case.

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  • March 18, 2015 at 10:02 am

    Shocking that a reporter would disclose the name of a source to a third party. It isn’t just the damage and embarrassment to the teacher who was named, the newspaper may not be trusted by anyone else who wants to raise an issue of public concern confidentially.

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