Clauses Noted: 1, 5
Publication: Sunday Life
Mr Daniel Kearney of London complained that a report in Sunday Life on 9 August 1998, headlined "Alcoholic nurse dies after baby tragedy", which concerned the inquest into the death of his wife, was misleading in breach of clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code of Practice and constituted an intrusion into his grief in breach of clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock).
The complaint was not upheld because the newspaper was reporting judicial proceedings in line with the Code. The Commission did however remind editors of the need to exercise particular sensitivity when reporting inquests, which are of a different nature from other judicial proceedings such as criminal trials.
The article reported the inquest's finding of death by misadventure.
The complainant objected to what he described as the "uncaring, insensitive and irresponsible" manner in which the inquest had been reported. He said that his wife - a nurse - was not a famous person who had courted publicity and he objected to the publication of details which were not even known to family and friends. He said that the report had added to the grief suffered by himself and those who had known his wife. He also believed that, through the omission of details about the care that his wife had shown her patients through her continuous work in the NHS up until the time of her death, the report painted a misleading picture of her.
The coroner had written to the editor to express her "dismay at the grossly insensitive way in which the case was reported". She wrote to the complainant that she could not "recall seeing such an insensitive report in the way that it records all the medical and personal detail".
The editor said that he appreciated the impact that this episode had had on the family and that it was not his intention to add to the family's devastation. However, he said that newspapers have a duty to report such tragedies and that this involves publishing details which are upsetting to relatives and friends. He believed that such reports perform a public service and that, in this case, it had served to warn readers of the dangers of over-indulging in alcohol. He offered to publish a clarification which would stress that the complainant's wife was in continuous employment as a nurse until the time of her death.
The Commission had very great sympathy with the complainant. It noted the coroner's strong objection to the detail contained in the report and concurred with that. However, under Clause 5 of the Code of Practice the right of newspapers to report judicial proceedings is protected. The Commission was therefore unable to uphold a complaint of this nature given that the article concerned an inquest. That said, the Commission believed that more thought could have been given to the content of the article in view of some of the sensitive details involved. It took the opportunity to remind editors that - even when reporting judicial proceedings such as inquests - they should take into account the feelings of those close to the deceased.
On the specific point of inaccuracy, while the complainant viewed the report as focusing so much on the negative as to be misleading, it did not appear that any significant facts about his wife's tragic death were reported inaccurately. It also noted that the editor had, in an effort to resolve the complainant's concerns, offered to publish a clarification regarding the continuous employment of the complainant's wife within the NHS.
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