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Woman who claimed journalist harassed her loses IPSO complaint

ipso-green-320A woman who claimed she was harassed by a journalist who called her back after she put the phone down on him has had her complaint dismissed by the press watchdog.

The unnamed woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Macclesfield Express and Manchester Evening News breached Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 4 (Intrusion in to Grief or Shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in a report of an inquest into the death of her partner, which published the circumstances of his death, the evidence given by the complainant, the coroner’s comments and his verdict of suicide.

The complainant said that the article inaccurately suggested that she had given an interview to the newspaper, which had caused her distress, did not fully report the evidence the inquest heard about her partner’s life, mental health, and his attempts to get treatment.

She further claimed it contained a number of inaccuracies – which included referring to her as ‘Mrs’ instead of ‘Ms’, presenting two of her hobbies as her occupation and misquoting her evidence during the inquest.

The day after the inquest, but before publication of the article, the complainant said she received a call from the journalist who had attended the proceedings. She said she waited for him to stop speaking before saying “no comment”, and ending the call.

She said the journalist then called back immediately, and provided a transcript of the voicemail, in which the journalist is recorded as saying: “I think we got cut off, erm although it’s, I do suspect you probably hung up the phone which is understandable.”

The journalist, who was covering the story for both the Express and the MEN, went on to state that his report of the inquest would be sensitive, and that if the complainant did want to pay tribute to her partner, she should call him.

The complainant claimed this was harassment, and demonstrated a lack of sympathy and discretion.

In response, the Express and the MEN expressed sympathy to the complainant, stating called the complainant to reassure her that he would take care to publish a report that was sensitive to her grief, and that he would not publish certain details.

The woman had listened to the request in silence before putting the phone down, but the journalist did not recall her saying “no comment” – which was why he then left the voicemail.

Shorthand notes were provided to IPSO from the inquest which supported the article’s accuracy, but it was accepted the complainant had been wrongly referred to in the piece – with an offer to amend the online articles as a result.

The complaint was not upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.


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  • November 14, 2016 at 11:57 am

    Classic case of blame culture where a grieving individual seeking someone to carry the can tries to take it out on a journalist simply doing their job.

    As a result of the demonisation of the press this kind of thing is happening more and more in these post-Leveson times…

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  • November 14, 2016 at 3:49 pm

    It is not a classic case of blame culture. It is someone who was genuinely upset and believed she had some course of redress, which she took.

    When you say ‘carry the can’, what do you mean. It makes no sense – do you think she was trying to blame the journalist for her partner’s suicide??? I just don’t get what you are implying.

    And since when is a phone call an acceptable way of going about getting a quote from the family. It’s called a death knock for a reason… because you knock on the bl**dy door. Then there is no way of confusing having the door slammed in your face. You show you have the decency make an effort.

    Blame culture indeed. Honestly.

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  • November 14, 2016 at 4:34 pm

    Have to agree with Gone Fishin. Have the balls to knock on the door. Let them exercise their right to slam it in your face because all you are doing is filling space in a paper or website, not helping them rebuild their lives or doing them a favour in any way, Tough, but true. It has happened to me many times and I have always hated death knocks.

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  • November 14, 2016 at 5:14 pm

    @paperboy I hate death knocks too – who doesn’t? – and to be honest I’ve never made such an approach over the phone so you could say I’m defending the indefensible.

    Having said that, the reporter in this case was clearly on a hiding to nothing and caught between a rock and a hard place.

    Having made that phone call – which IPSO clearly felt was within acceptable standards – he winds up getting accused of harassment.

    This naturally begs the question what action would he have faced had he turned up on the doorstep in person as has been suggested?

    I don’t always agree with IPSO but I believe they got it right on this occasion.

    @gone fishin’ Apologies if my reference to a ‘blame culture’ so enraged you, but this is one reporter who gets heartily sick and tired of some of the undeserved flak we have to take…

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  • November 14, 2016 at 9:02 pm

    Sorry Paperboy, but I take issue with ‘ all you are doing is’.
    None of us like death knocks. Unpredictable,, emotional and thankless and yet. Sometimes days, weeks, even months and years later you get a thank you. Thank you for listening. Thank you for caring. Thank you for helping put jumbled thoughts and words into meaning when it really mattered.
    I’m finding this hard to type as I remember being sat on countless sofas trying to stay professional as the world caves in for another human being.
    We can and do make a difference.
    I vividly remember one widow from a light aircraft crash. She openly talked of her late husband, the life and soul of the local flying club. When I interrupted her to say it was ok not to grieve for him she seem surprised and relieved. Released form an unhappy marriage.
    To have someone say it was ok,, to understand and sympathise made all the difference to her.
    There are no winners in this IPSO ruling but there are lessons.
    Just because we fail sometimes Paperboy, we don’t stop trying.

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  • November 16, 2016 at 10:04 am

    I’ve done many death knocks and I hate them, but nine times out of ten people seemed to want to talk about the person they have lost, if only to leave a record, somewhere, about their life. This lady seems to be the one out of ten who didn’t want to talk. Phone calls in these situations, however, are never good a good idea. It’s horrid, and you never know what reception you are going to get, but it’s better than hiding behind a phone.

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