A weekly newspaper apologised after relatives of a musician found out he had committed suicide through a story it ran – even though the press watchdog said it had done nothing wrong.
The Morecambe Visitor published an interview with the man’s widow in which she paid tribute to her late husband and discussed his history of mental health problems, as well as his mental and emotional state leading up to his death.
However other relatives of the unnamed man had not been told of his passing, prompting a complaint to the Independent Press Standards Organisation by the man’s widow and his parents.
The Visitor’s apologised for any upset causes, but IPSO found there had been no wrongdoing by the paper in the way it had produced and presented the story, over which the widow had been given partial copy approval.
The article in question did not explicitly spell out that he had committed suicide, but the man’s widow claimed members of her family had inferred it from the piece, which also included details about her finding her husband on the day of his death.
The story came about after she met a Visitor journalist at a fundraising event and agreed to do a tribute piece because her husband was well-known locally, and they later met at her house where she shared details of her husband’s mental health and how he died.
In her complaint to IPSO under Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 5 (Reporting of suicide) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, the man’s widow claimed she had shared some of this information with the reporter in a non-journalistic capacity and did not expect it to be published.
She also said that she had understood that she would get a full read back of the article before it went to print, which did not happen.
In her complaint, the woman said that reading private and sensitive material about discussions she had with her husband leading up to his death, as well as information of her reaction upon finding him, had caused her further distress, and that members of the public and some family members who had not known the circumstances of his death had also been distressed to read these details.
The Visitor apologised for any distress or upset the publication of the article had caused, saying it was not its intention to sensationalise the man’s death in any way and adding the story had been published in good faith.
It said all the information included in the article had been given by the complainant to the reporter after she had been asked if she was ready to start the interview, with the journalist asking at the end if there was anything she did not want to be included in the article.
The reporter had agreed not to use the word “suicide” or mention the method used, but said the woman had agreed to the inclusion of details about how the pair met, her husband’s struggles with depression, how he was in the days leading up to his death and details of what happened on the day of his death.
During a later phone call prior to publication, the journalist and had agreed on a headline with the woman and read back the introduction, discussed the chronology of the article and repeated back direct quotes to her.
When the woman requested that specific terms were not included in the article, the journalist made changes to reflect her wishes and the Visitor said it had proceeded with publication on the basis that it had no reason to believe the woman had concerns about the information in the story being published.
Despite this, the Visitor said it had received a number of complaints from other family members and members of the public about the detail included in the article, adding it had apologised to these individuals when contacted and published an apology for any upset caused in the next edition of the newspaper.
It also removed the online article shortly after publication, and did not reproduce the article in its sister publication, as planned, out of respect for the family.
IPSO found that while it was regrettable that there appeared to have been a misunderstanding about the possibility for the complainant to review the whole article before publication, there was no basis to find that the journalist had acted improperly or published information that had been shared with her in a non-journalistic capacity.
The complaint was not upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.