A weekly newspaper has been rapped by the press watchdog after failing to prove it had adequately protected a confidential source who was subsequently sacked from her job.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation has upheld a complaint from the sacked woman against the Halifax Courier because the paper was unable to establish that it had protected her confidentiality.
The woman, who was unnamed by IPSO, alleged in emails to the Courier that her employer had placed profit above the need to protect staff from Covid-19 and stressed she needed to remain anonymous for fear of losing her job.
The Courier denied its reporter had subsequently passed over the woman’s details or otherwise revealed her identity in an enquiry to her employer’s press office. However, the email in question had been deleted – meaning the paper was unable to prove this.
Complaining under Clause 14 (Confidential sources) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, the woman said her emails had raised concerns about non-essential purchases at the store at which she worked and a lack of measures to protect staff from the risk of Covid-19.
The emails were sent to the Courier after a reporter contacted her about a public social media post she had made around 28 March 2020 about her day at work.
Then, on 21 April last year, she was suspended from her job, partly because of an allegation that she “made derogatory comments regarding the company and its customers to the media”.
She was dismissed on the grounds of gross misconduct on 4 May 2020 after the allegation was substantiated by her employer.
The woman said the Courier must have provided her name or sufficiently identified her to her employer in its email to the company.
She asserted this was because the only other person she had raised these concerns with was her MP, and the hearing notes and letters from her employer referred to her “comments… to the media”.
Her employer also provided her with an extract from an email, described only as being from “the media”, that contained her name and referenced the same concerns she had raised, and contained the same language she had used, in her emails to the Courier.
The Courier denied the woman’s claim that its reporter had passed over her details or otherwise revealed her identity in his email to her employer, but was unable to provide the email it had sent to the company.
It said the journalist had deleted the email after it had been sent and that, although it had contacted the employer on receipt of the complaint, the firm had also been unable to retrieve the original email.
The Courier acknowledged that its policy was for emails to be retained for two years and said, in this case, the email had been deleted through error.
In addition, the reporter said that, to the best of his recollection, the email only referenced the fact that the source was a worker at one of the company’s two stores in Halifax.
The Courier stressed that the hearing notes and letters from the woman’s employer never referred to the paper by name and simply mentioned her comments to “the media”.
However the woman confirmed the Courier was the only media organisation she had contacted about her concerns, and IPSO found the email which her employer had produced had set out the same concerns that she had raised, and contained the same language she had used, in her email to the Courier.
The Committee acknowledged the Courier’s denial that the email produced by the woman’s employer had been sent by its reporter, but it noted that the burden of establishing compliance with the Editors’ Code lies with the publication.
The Courier had accepted that an email had been sent to the woman’s employer, but it had been unable to provide a copy for consideration by IPSO to demonstrate that it had not identified her.
Considering all of the available evidence, IPSO found that the Courier had been unable to establish that it had protected the woman, adding it represented a breach of a moral obligation and had had serious consequences for her.
IPSO ordered the Courier to publish its adjudication on page three, with a cross-reference on page one, and online.
The complaint was upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.