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Editorial chief slams health bosses’ secrecy bid over ‘sensationalism’ fears

Lucy Stephenson 1An editorial chief has hit out at health bosses’ plans to keep a key report secret over fears of “sensational” media reporting.

Jersey Evening Post assistant editor Lucy Stephenson has criticised the island’s health director general Caroline Landon after she claimed media coverage of the report could stop patients from seeking help.

Ms Landon made the comments about the report on her department’s performance at a hearing of Jersey’s Public Accounts Committee.

Group managing director for health Rob Sainsbury told the same meeting mental health unit admissions and suicides were “reported in a very sensational way in the media here”.

Lucy, pictured, wrote in an editorial on the issue: “I was so disappointed to read recently that there are officials within our government who are so distrustful of the local media that they would blame us for them choosing to not make information public.

“According to reports, health director general Caroline Landon told a hearing of the Public Accounts Committee recently that her department did not intend to publish a key report on its performance because of concerns about ‘sensational’ media reporting.

“And she said that officials were worried that media coverage of the report could even stop patients from seeking help.

“The conversation about whether or not to publish is, apparently, still ongoing, while the Chief Minister has said he will look into the comments made.

“He said the report should be released but admitted that some issues around commercial confidentiality, privacy or information around individuals could prevent certain elements from being publicised. It should be noted that health reports of this nature are typically available publicly in other jurisdictions.”

According to the JEP, Ms Landon had told the meeting her department had held conversations regarding the report “because, in other jurisdictions, that report is public” and the “whole aspiration of our governance structure is that we are transparent”.

She said: “I think some of the challenges for us in Jersey come from us being a very different jurisdiction, and the information can be used in ways that inhibit patients from accessing care, because it can be presented in a way that is sensationalised, and that is difficult.”

Ms Landon claimed withholding the report was “not us trying to hide our performance”, but instead “trying to support our staff to deliver better for patients”.

She added: “Sometimes in Jersey that is difficult because it’s sensationalised£

Mr Sainsbury agreed, saying it would be “really challenging in Jersey because there is a real sensitivity, because it’s small” and claimed mental health unit admissions and suicides were “reported in a very sensational way in the media here”.

He added: “The way that they are interpreted can really impact on people in terms of how you want to promote your services so if you hear about a negative impact continuously for your service, and that stops someone seeking help and support, that can be really counter-productive.

“In terms of putting everything out there, it feels that the information isn’t always appropriately and proportionately interpreted.

“It becomes a front headline that you would just not see in other jurisdictions.”

In her editorial, Lucy went on to reference States of Jersey chief executive Charlie Parker’s previous criticism of the JEP.

Mr Parker claimed in 2019 the paper gave negative stories “much more prominence” than positive ones.

Lucy wrote: “I quite literally begged him to work with us to ensure our reporting is as informed as it could be. Clearly, however, the message has still not got through.

“Now, I do sympathise with Ms Landon and others like her – dealing with the media can be intimidating.

“And with examples of the kind I started this piece with floating around, coupled with the kind of behaviour we have seen recently with the photographers following Matt Hancock’s poor wife around in the UK, it is true that journalists do not always have the best reputation.

“But it is also true that we should not all be tarred with the same brush, especially those of us working within small communities with a proven track record of professionalism, integrity and passion for the places we serve.

“We also have moral, ethical and legal codes to follow, and go to great pains to do so.”

She added: “Last week, at around the same time Ms Landon’s comments were being published, this newspaper celebrated its 131st birthday. Today our office sits opposite the building where that first edition was produced all those years ago.

“The location is not lost on those of us working to fill the paper today, and nor is the tagline which remains a proud part of the JEP’s history – ‘at the heart of Island life’. We want it to stay that way, for the good of the paper but for the community too.

“If only the government would recognise that a little more and make use of the opportunities for professional engagement and communication we offer.”