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Complainant Name:
Mr and Mrs Napuk/Mrs and Mrs Gibson

Clauses Noted: 5

Publication: FHM

Complaint:

Mr and Mrs Napuk of Edinburgh and Mr and Mrs Gibson of Inkberrow, Worcester complained that an article in a student guide published by FHM Magazine headlined “Straight to hell!” intruded into the grief and shock of the families in breach of Clause 5 (Grief and shock) of the Code of Practice.

The complaints are upheld.

The article complained of was part of a student guide distributed by FHM to universities and colleges. It was written in a humorous style and included examples of students who had committed suicide, tips on how to kill yourself and advice from a counsellor on how to prevent student suicide.

The complainants are the parents of two students featured in the piece - Sarah Napuk, who died in April 1997 and Robert Gibson, who died in June 1999. The complainants said the piece intruded into their grief, that the details of the deaths of their children were inaccurate and that the way in which the magazine dealt with the subject of student suicide was irresponsible.

The editor apologised to the complainants and said that he had not intended to cause them any distress. He understood how they might find the tone and style of the piece offensive. However, the subject of student suicide was an important one which they had dealt with in a way which would communicate best with their readership. The piece sought to point out the horror and waste of suicide and was designed as a deterrent and a warning to students. He said the details of the two cases came from previous press cuttings.

The publisher said that they profoundly regretted causing the complainants personal upset and offence. While they had acted with the best intentions and their motivation was genuine, he regretted deeply the way in which the issue had been covered.

Decision:
Upheld

Adjudication:

The Commission agreed with the magazine that suicide is a matter of public interest - and noted that the style of the piece was clearly intended for a particular audience of young people. However, one of the key features of the Code of Practice is the way in which it seeks to protect particularly vulnerable groups of people - including those who are suffering at times of grief and shock.

In this case, the Commission noted that the complainants’ children had died relatively recently - in one case only a few months prior to publication - and the magazine should have taken every care strictly to abide by the terms of Clause 5 of the Code which requires sensitivity in such circumstances. It had not done so - and, instead of due sensitivity, had treated their tragic deaths in a gratuitously humorous manner. This was a serious breach of the Code.

Report:
48



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