PCC censures local newspaper for insensitive treatment of manís medical condition
The Press Complaints Commission has upheld a complaint against the Halifax Courier under Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors' Code of Practice after it published an article about a man with a terminal condition headlined "Crossley tycoon: I'm dying".
The complainant has the condition malignant mesothelioma. The article reported that he had initiated legal proceedings seeking compensation from his former employer, alleging that it had failed to protect him from exposure to asbestos. The complainant contended that the headline was insensitive and inaccurate. He said he had not used the words "I'm dying" to the newspaper or in his legal claim; although his condition is terminal, he considers himself to be "living with mesothelioma".
The newspaper apologised privately to the complainant for any distress it had caused but defended its coverage on the basis that the headline was an accurate summary of the man's legal position, the details of which were already in the public domain. It noted that it had not used quotation marks in the headline.
The Commission emphasised that this was a "difficult and finely balanced case". It acknowledged that the newspaper was entitled to report on the legal claim, including the complainant's prognosis, and it accepted that the use of a first-person summary in a headline is a "legitimate technique". Nonetheless, it concluded on this occasion that "using the first person, in the headline, as a means to report the complainant's prognosis in this manner could not be considered as handling publication sensitively". The complaint under Clause 5 was upheld.
The Commmission did not uphold the complaint under Clause 1 (Accuracy), finding that readers would not have been misled as to the factual position by the article taken as a whole.
Charlotte Dewar, Head of Complaints and Pre-publication Services said: "As the Commission noted in its adjudication, this was a particularly hard case. The newspaper was undoubtedly entitled to report on the legal claim, and the Commission accepted that it had not intended to cause distress to the complainant, but it ultimately decided that the headline did not meet the Code's standard that in such cases publication must be "handled sensitively". This ruling exemplifies the need for editors to take particular care when reporting stories of such sensitivity, including over headlines".
Notes to editors
1. To read the adjudication, which has been published in this week's edition of the newspaper with a front-page trial, please click here. The article was not published on the newspaper's website.
2. The Editors' Code of Practice can be read in full here. Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) reads as follows:
i) In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings, such as inquests.
*ii) When reporting suicide, care should be taken to avoid excessive detail about the method used.
3. For more information, please contact Jonathan Collett on 020 7831 0022, 07740 896805 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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