Clauses Noted: 3
Publication: Southport Visiter
A man complained that reports headlined "Jealousy leads to attack" in the Southport Visiter on 29 March 1996 and "Ex-wife said no to sex" in the Southport Champion on 3 April 1996 contained intrusive amounts of detail regarding the conviction of a man for assaulting the complainant's sister-in-law, which constituted an invasion of her privacy in breach of Clause 4 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice.
The two reports that were the subject of the complaint concerned the court appearance of the ex-husband of the complainant's sister-in-law. He had pleaded guilty to assault after making advances to her which had been rebuffed. Both reports included detailed descriptions of how the man had assaulted her while she was dressed only in underwear and nightdress. The complainant objected that the reports had further upset and unnerved his sister-in-law because of their "sensationalist use of detail and lack of sympathy". He believed that this constituted an invasion of her privacy.
The newspapers responded that the information in both reports had been taken from the same news agency copy. The details had been referred to in open court and no order had been made preventing identification. Both reports had named the defendant but not the victim of the attack.
In its editorial on the subject of Court Reporting (PCC Report No.24 March/April 1994), the Commission referred to complaints where newspapers allegedly intrude upon privacy by printing a report of a court case in which the complainant has been involved. It said that:
"In these cases the Commission upholds the right of newspapers to publish fair, accurate and contemporaneous reports of proceedings".
Against that background, the Commission recognised how the reports of the court hearing and the details of the attack in which she was an "innocent victim" might add to the victim's distress. While it had much sympathy with her situation it had to consider whether the articles could have been said to intrude unfairly into her privacy. It noted that the events described had been referred to in open court and that there had been no complaint that the case had been reported unfairly or inaccurately. In the circumstances it did not believe that the reports could be viewed as an invasion of the victim's privacy under Clause 4 of the Code. It did, however, take the opportunity to remind editors of the abiding need for sensitivity in the reporting of such cases.
The complaints were rejected.
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