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IPSO backs weekly title over reporting of alleged sexual assault

NewIPSOThree people who complained to the press watchdog about the reporting of an alleged sexual assault have had their complaint rejected. 

A woman and two men complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Westmorland Gazette in Crumbria breached clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and clause 11 (victims of sexual assault) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in a story published on its website in November 2021.

The complainants were the man who was the victim of an alleged sexual assault, and two of his family members.

They said that the storye breached Clause 4, as they considered it included gratuitous detail about the alleged assault which was insensitive, specifically relating to an object that was used.

They said that the publication had sensationalised a traumatic incident and had not taken into account the mental health and wellbeing of the victim and witness. 

They also said that the Gazette had not been sufficiently vigilant in protecting the identity of the victim, in breach of clause 11. They said that, while the name had not been published, the case was widely known in the local community.

They also complained about the fact that the comments box was left open on the article and on social media.

The Gazette apologised for any upset caused but said that it did not feel that the story had breached the Code. However, they did accept that comments should not have been allowed on the article and accepted full responsibility.

In its ruling, the Code committee did not consider that including the specific object represented insensitive reporting in breach of clause 4.

In relation to clause 11, the committee added that the article contained only one piece of information about the victim – his gender – and did not include other information that was likely to identify him.

The committee noted that the clauses do not restrict the right  to allow comments on articles which relate to cases of grief or shock or sexual offences but they did welcome the publication’s decision to turn off the commenting function altogether.

The complaints were not upheld.