A weekly newspaper was justified in breaching a woman’s privacy after revealing she was off work for “stress related issues”, the press watchdog has ruled.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation said there was a “significant public interest” in the Thurrock Independent revealing the reason behind the woman’s absence from her job as head of the department which was responsible for bringing revenue into St Luke’s Hospice, in Basildon.
The Independent detailed allegations made by “whistleblowers” concerning a “financial crisis” and “staff bullying” at the hospice where the unnamed woman is employed, reporting that her department had been placed under “unrealistic pressure” and claiming that employees were finding it “tougher and tougher to achieve their annual income targets”.
The article identified the woman by name, in addition to her job title and a claim that she was “currently reported to be on leave with stress related issues” as it had emerged that “grievance procedures” had been taken out by staff alleging bullying.
But, in her complaint to IPSO under Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, the woman said this was private information which the article had disclosed without her knowledge or consent.
She accepted that it was in the public interest to report on the alleged financial crisis and mismanagement at the hospice, but she did not accept that the disclosure of her name and her job title, in order to illustrate that story, was justified.
The Independent expressed regret that the article had caused the complainant distress, but said that it had a duty of care to the community to report on the claims made by its confidential source, who, in addition to informing the newspaper of the complainant’s absence from work, had detailed financial pressure, bullying and administrative failures at the hospice following recent changes to its management.
The paper maintained that it was in the public interest to name the complainant in the article because it was not possible to report the full extent of the problems within the hospice’s organisation, without reporting that the health of a senior member of staff, ho held a public facing and senior position within a key department, had been jeopardised as a consequence.
It noted that a number of people from within the organisation, as well as its corporate partners, had been aware of the reasons why the complainant had been absent from work, prior to the disclosure of this information in the article.
The Independent added that the public interest in reporting on the management changes could only be achieved by identifying that a key and senior figure in the organisation was being bullied and victimised as a consequence, and that given the complainant’s senior position within the organisation, as well as her popularity within the community, naming her was essential to place public pressure on the senior management at the hospice and demand change.
IPSO acknowledged the complainant’s distress that information which she had chosen to disclose to a small number of people had been published by the newspaper without her knowledge or consent, adding it was a matter of considerable regret that the publication had failed to contact her prior to publication.
But the Committee found there was a significant public interest in identifying the reason for the complainant’s absence, where it illustrated the article’s concerns regarding alleged management failings at the hospice, which was an important and well-known local organisation which many readers would have been aware of.
The complaint was not upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.