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McNae’s author hits out at ‘chilling’ trend as offenders get court stories removed

Sian HarrisonA journalism law expert has shared her fears about the “chilling” trend of regional news titles aagreeing to remove accurate court stories in order to resolve IPSO complaints.

Sian Harrison, co-author of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists, has raised concerns about two “worrying” decisions in recent weeks in which publications have agreed to delete stories from their websites at the requests of offenders.

HTFP reported yesterday that the Falkirk Herald had agreed to remove a story about an offender who admitted possession of indecent photographs or pseudo-photographs of children.

In a separate case, arsonist Nicola Clayton last month succeeded in getting Lancs Live to remove a story about her conviction.

In both cases, the publications had maintained their stories about the respective court hearings were accurate after the offenders complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, although Lancs Live amended the headline of its story after accepting that element of its coverage was inaccurate.

The resolutions meant IPSO discontinued its investigations into the stories under complaint and did not make a determination in either case on whether the Editors’ Code of Practice had been breached.

Publication of IPSO’s resolutions statements following the cases prompted Sian, pictured, to share her concerns on Twitter.

She wrote: “This seems, on the face of it, quite worrying. Publicity of convictions is an important function of the press and pulling such stories should be a last resort.”

In the case of Clayton, Lancs Live agreed to remove the story from its site immediately, while the Herald will delete its piece in May 2023, when the offender concerned would no longer have to notify prospective employers of his conviction.

Sian, who is also law editor at PA Media, told HTFP: “Court reporting is an essential function of the media, and publicity of convictions is an integral part of that function.

“It would be concerning if publications are withdrawing such stories, which should only ever be done as a last resort, to avoid an investigation, as they should usually be able to stand by their reports as long as they are fair, accurate and contemporaneous.

“There’s also a risk that removing stories where a complaint has not been adjudicated on could create a chilling effect on other publications in relation to all of the things complained of, where it is unclear exactly which grounds of complaint the story has been pulled on in order to resolve the matter.”

An IPSO spokesman said: “IPSO is strongly supportive of open justice and court reporting.

“Earlier this year, we issued guidance to help journalists report on court proceedings in line with the requirements of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

“We also support efforts by publications to resolve complaints through mediation, as happened in these cases.”

HTFP has approached the Falkirk Herald and Lancs Live for a comment on Sian’s remarks.