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Complainant Name:
Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust

Clauses Noted: 1, 3, 8

Publication: Crawley Observer

Complaint:

Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust complained that photographs accompanying an article headlined “Casualty crisis worsens” published in the Crawley Observer on 23 February 2000 were taken in breach of Clause 9 (Hospitals) of the Code of Practice and published in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy). It also said that a caption accompanying the photographs breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code. A further complaint was made that an article headlined “Hospital porter tackles gunman”, published on the same day, was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code of Practice.

The complaints were not upheld.

The Commission first considered the complaint about the taking and publication of the photographs. With regard to the complaint under Clause 9, the complainant said that a photographer had taken photographs of a patient and a member of staff in a non-public area. Although the hospital accepted that a junior member of staff had telephoned the newspaper it did not consider that this absolved the newspaper of its responsibility to ensure that the photographer had sought permission from a responsible executive. The photographs had been published in the newspaper which amounted to a breach of Clause 3 and the caption to the photograph which was headed ‘Trolley Terror’ was inaccurate. The hospital said that the editor had accepted that the caption was inappropriate but had not offered to publish an apology.

The editor said that his staff had been invited to the hospital by members of staff and once there were given freedom to take photographs. The newspaper was given no reason to believe that its invitation had not been cleared by hospital authorities.

The hospital said that instructions had been given to remove the photographer as soon as his presence had been noted and it acknowledged that he had left as soon as he was asked to do so. However, the normal channels for a press visit to the hospital had been ignored by the newspaper which resulted, in the complainant’s opinion, in a breach of the Code.

Decision:
Not Upheld

Adjudication:

The Commission regretted the apparent breakdown in communications between the hospital and the newspaper that resulted in this complaint. However, it noted that the complainant had accepted that somebody from the hospital had telephoned the newspaper asking them to come to the hospital. The newspaper had not initiated the enquiry, and in these circumstances the Commission could understand why the newspaper took this as permission to make legitimate enquiries at the hospital. The Commission noted that both parties to the complaint accepted that when challenged the photographer had left the premises. The Commission considered that any hospital should be able to carry out its functions away from the glare of publicity unless there are matters of legitimate public interest to be exposed or unless there is consent for the presence of reporters or photographers. In this case, the Commission could not uphold the complaint under Clause 9 as there appeared to be a genuine confusion regarding whether or not the photographer should have been there. The complainant had accepted that somebody had invited the newspaper to the hospital but had not been in a position to identify the individual or explain why they were not of sufficient seniority to make the invitation. The Commission had not received a complaint from the patient, or a member of their family, regarding an intrusion into their privacy. While the accompanying caption may not have been appropriate, the Commission did not consider that this complaint raised a matter of significant inaccuracy in breach of Clause 1.

The Commission then considered the complaint that the article headlined ‘Hospital porter tackles gunman’ was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1.

The article said that staff at the hospital had criticised security arrangements after porters had restrained a man brandishing an imitation firearm. The complainant said firstly that the hospital’s response had been edited to make it appear insensitive to the staff’s experience and secondly that the story was sensationalised.

The newspaper said that the article was the result of a telephone call from one of the porters involved in the incident who had expressed his own fears about security following the incident. The article included part of the hospital’s response but the editing of their statement was not misleading.

The Commission did not consider that the article contained any significant inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1. There did not appear to be any doubt that the newspaper had been contacted by someone at the hospital and that doubts about security had been expressed. The Commission was in no doubt that the newspaper was entitled to report such views which related to a matter which it was clearly in the public interest for the newspaper to report. The article had included the hospital’s comments and the Commission did not consider that in the circumstances readers would have been misled as to the hospital’s view of the incident.

Report:
50



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