Press Complaints Commission
spacer spacer
SEARCH FOR     Or try the cases search  
Cases Banner
Making a complaint
Code of Practice Information
Code Advice

Complainant Name:
Mr James Barlow

Clauses Noted: 16

Publication: The Daily Telegraph


Mr James Barlow of London SW1 complained that the Daily Telegraph published an article written by Victoria Aitken on 9 June 1999 headlined "My father is paying too heavy a price" in breach of Clause 16 (Payment for articles) of the Code of Practice.

The complaint was upheld

Miss Aitken used the article to present her own view of her father who had just been sentenced to 18 months in prison for perjury and perverting the course of justice. She wrote of the events preceding the conviction and the effect that the episode had had upon her.

The editor said that Miss Aitken was generally held to be the victim of the crime and said that the personal account could in no way be held to glorify the crime. He said that the public interest had been served by the article - which revealed new details such as the allegations of press harassment of the family and the contention that much of the attendant media coverage had been misleading - and that payment was necessary.



In considering this complaint, the Commission applied the four tests that it has laid down on previous adjudications under Clause 16.

First, did the article contain information of public interest? Second, was payment necessary to extract the information? Third, was new information about the crimes in question made available to the public as a result? And fourth, was there any profit for those involved? The Commission did not believe that the newspaper had a strong defence on any of these points.

First, the article in question did not reveal any material of genuine public interest. It was an account, instead, of the impact of a crime on the family of its perpetrator - one that could have been written by any relative of a criminal. That Miss Aitken apparently suffered a good deal from media attention was also not, of itself, of public interest: the families of many criminals are subject to media scrutiny. Second, there was no evidence that payment was necessary to obtain these reminiscences. Another newspaper obtained the information and made no payment to Miss Aitken, either directly or indirectly. Third, no new information about, or perspective on, the crime of Jonathan Aitken was made available in the article. Unlike in the other cases investigated by the Commission - in each of which new information was published for the first time - Miss Aitken's account was, as the newspaper itself said, a personal account of her feelings at the time. Fourth, it was at least arguable that Miss Aitken - however much of a victim of her father's crimes she may have been - did profit from the payment, and therefore from the crime. In previous cases, the Commission had satisfied itself either that payment was necessary, for instance to obtain a serialisation, or that payment had been purely for expenses and gave rise to no profit to those receiving it. It could not satisfy itself on either of these points in this case.

Inevitably, members of the Commission had a great deal of sympathy for Miss Aitken - who, as the newspaper pointed out, had been a victim of the crime in question. But she was still an associate of the person convicted of a crime, and the terms of the Code applied.

The newspaper had not made out a public interest case for payment, nor could it show why payment was necessary or what new information it produced. The Commission therefore upheld the complaint.


<< Go Back
Home ] Cases ] Site map ]