Clauses Noted: 3, 8
Publication: Daily Mail
Mr Bryan Harrison, Chief Executive of Forest Healthcare, London E17, complained that photographs which accompanied an article headlined "Queue here for misery" published in the Daily Mail on 29 December 1998 intruded into the privacy of patients in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice. He further complained that reporters researching the article had not identified themselves to the relevant responsible executive in breach of Clause 9 (Hospitals).
The complaint was rejected.
The photographs accompanied an article about the problems facing the NHS in winter and showed patients, several of whom were elderly, who had been placed on trolleys to await treatment. The article denounced such conditions and compared them to those that could be expected in the third world.
The complainant said that although he did not dispute the newspaper's right to draw attention to problems in NHS hospitals he was dismayed that neither the reporter nor the photographer had identified themselves to a representative of the hospital management. He also said that one patient whom he did not name had approached the hospital to say that she was distressed by the use of her photograph. None of the patients, however, complained to the Commission.
The editor said that the clauses of the Code of Practice under which the complaints were raised were subject to the exception of the public interest, which specifically includes matters of health. Members of staff and of the public had drawn the newspaper's attention to what some had described as 'humiliating' conditions in the hospital. The editor thought that there was a clear public interest which over-rode the provisions of the Code.
With regard to the complaint under Clause 3, the Commission noted that the hospital did not appear to be complaining with authorisation on behalf of any of the people who were the focus of the article and did not in these circumstances consider that it would be appropriate to adjudicate on the matter. The Commission therefore considered only the complaint under Clause 9. There did not appear to be any dispute that the reporter and photographer had failed to identify themselves to a responsible executive as the Code requires them to do when visiting 'non-public' areas of a hospital. It was not wholly clear - especially given that the point of the article was to show that the hospital was not affording the patients the privacy which some might expect - whether such a corridor could have been considered a non-public area. However, it was not necessary for the Commission to take this into account as in any case it considered the public interest would have been sufficient to over-ride the terms of the Code.
Serious allegations about the conditions which members of the public were facing in the hospital had been made by both hospital staff and patients and the Commission could not criticise the newspaper for testing the allegations and obtaining the material in this way. For whatever reason the newspaper had discovered a situation in which it believed the standard of service had fallen far short of what it thought the public could expect from the NHS. It was alleged that ill people had not been afforded the privacy which their conditions required and the newspaper had reacted to complaints from both users of the service and its employees. The newspaper had undertaken its investigation in the public interest and the Commission therefore rejected the complaint.
While in this instance the Code had not been breached, the Commission took the opportunity to remind editors that - where they are publishing pictures such as this to illustrate stories in the public interest - they should bear in mind the privacy of the individuals concerned and seek as much as possible to protect it.
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