A cancer patient complained to the press watchdog about a weekly newspaper’s coverage of her charity drive – claiming it had “distorted” a press release she had written.
Joanna Jones went to the Independent Press Standards Organisation after being left unhappy by the Epsom Guardian’s editing of a press release she submitted.
The Guardian’s story reported how she had sought to raise awareness of a stem cell donor registration event taking place at a local primary school, but Ms Jones claimed the Guardian’s story contained several inaccuracies and had also intruded into her privacy by disclosing her email address without her consent.
However, IPSO found in the Guardian’s favour and said the paper’s interpretation of her press release was not significantly misleading.
In her complaint to IPSO under Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, Ms Jones aid that the article was a distortion of the contents of her original press release, and represented an intrusion into her privacy.
She said she had not stated in the press release that she had “hoped to avoid chemotherapy”, as reported in the article, but rather that “there was no perfect stem cell donor match on the worldwide register for Jo so she is undergoing 3 years of chemotherapy instead”.
Further to this, the submission stated that she had been diagnosed with leukemia in November 2016, while the article had reported that she had been diagnosed “nearly three years ago”, and the release had also stated that both of her children had been pupils at a local primary school when she had been diagnosed.
Ms Jones said that one of her children no longer attended the school, while the Guardian had reported that both remained pupils there.
She added that, while the editor had been calm throughout a telephone conversation in which she had raised these issues with Guardian, she felt he had not expressed compassion or sympathy for her diagnosis or the situation she had found herself in.
The Guardian expressed regret that the article had caused the complainant concern, but noted that after she had contacted it directly, the article was removed immediately from the internet, and the complainant was called back to be reassured that the article would not be appearing in print – adding it felt her concerns had been received sympathetically.
Denying a breach of Code, it said that it was standard practice for reader submissions to be reviewed and edited before being published online, as had happened in the complainant’s case.
While it accepted the points she had raised on discrepancies between the press release and the final story, it said the changes which had been made to the original copy, had not resulted in errors that significantly distorted the tone or meaning of the complainant’s press release.
The Guardian noted that the complainant had submitted the piece in an effort to promote the stem cell donor register event, praise the school for its support of her children and publicise the forthcoming Fun Day – and it felt all three of these key elements had been featured.
In her submission she had expressly stated “for more information about stem cell donor registration please contact Jo Jones” and had provided her email address and telephone number.
While acknowledging the complainant had ticked a ‘Don’t credit me’ box when she had submitted her story, it said the box applied to photo credits or other submissions which, unlike in the complainant’s case, did not relate to a specific person or include their photograph.
IPSO said it was of the view that the complainant’s original submission had the potential to be read ambiguously, and that the inference which the newspaper had drawn from it was not unreasonable.
It found the Guardian’s interpretation of the complainant’s submission was not significantly misleading.
The complaint was not upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.