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Complainant Name:
Messrs Clarkson Hirst on behalf of Mr Rodney Telford

Clauses Noted: 5

Publication: Lancaster Guardian

Complaint:

Clarkson Hirst, Solicitors, of Lancaster, complained on behalf of Mr Rodney Telford that an article in the Lancaster Guardian on 3 March 2000 headlined “Man cut free after head-on smash” and accompanying photograph was published in breach of Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief and shock) of the Code of Practice .

The complaint was not upheld.

The complainant had been involved in a serious car accident which the article described and the photograph showed him being cut free from the wreckage of his car. The solicitors said that the complainant had sustained serious injuries and had to be resuscitated at the scene. The article had been seen by his ten year old niece and following its publication his parents had received numerous telephone calls which they had found distressing. The explicit photograph made clear that the complainant was being treated by paramedics and in the process of being removed from the vehicle. Publication of the photograph was in bad taste.

The editor replied that the photograph had not been taken by a member of his staff but had been passed free of charge to the newspaper by somebody who was at the scene in an official capacity. Careful consideration had been given to publication: there were no gratuitous signs of personal injury and journalists had enquired of the hospital before publication that the injuries were in no way life threatening. The editor maintained that the newspaper was distributed two days after the accident by which time it would be reasonable to assume that his family would have been aware of the accident and that his injuries were not criticial.

The solicitors said that adequate checks were not made with the hospital to ascertain the scope of the injuries but the editor insisted that the checks had been carried out. Had they revealed that the injuries might lead to death then the photograph would not have been used.

Decision:
Not Upheld

Adjudication:

The Commission considered three principal points in adjudicating this complaint. First, was there any evidence that the complainant had been distressed by the presence of the press and the taking of photographs while he was being treated? Second, was there any evidence that the newspaper’s coverage had broken the news of the accident to members of the complainant’s family? Third, was the article insensitive or frivolous?

The Commission noted the editor’s assertion that the photograph had not been taken by a member of the newspaper’s staff but by an official who was at the scene recording the incident anyway. It did not therefore appear as though any press photographers had been present and there could not therefore have been a breach of the Code in this respect. The Commission has previously made very clear that it is not the job of newpapers or journalists to break shocking news to the immediate families of those involved in such incidents. However, in this case it did not appear as though any of the complainant’s immediate family had learned about the accident as a result of the article and the Commission noted that the piece had been published two days after the incident by which time it would have been reasonable to assume that the immediate family would have been informed. Finally, the Commission did not consider that the accompanying text in any way made light of the serious situation and noted that it appeared to be a straight-forward news report of an episode that had happened in public.

Although the Commission found that the Code had not been breached, it also noted that the complainant had also questioned the tastefulness of publishing the photograph. The Commission understood the complainant’s reasons for making this point but it did not adjudicate on it as matters of taste and offensiveness fall outside the terms of the Code.

Report:
50



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