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Complainant Name:
Mr Michael S Curnow

Clauses Noted: 1, 3

Publication: Edinburgh Evening News


Mr Michael S Curnow of Argyll and his family complained that coverage in the Edinburgh Evening News on 1 May 1997 contained inaccuracies and intruded into their privacy in breach of Clauses 1 (Accuracy), and 4 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice. The front page featured a photograph of his son the previous day, standing on Edinburgh's North Bridge, headlined "THE MAN WHO HAD NO HOPE". Inside pages showed the young man jumping off in a sequence of photographs. (He died in hospital, after publication.) The text said he was lonely and was thought to have been living on the streets with severe mental problems.

The complainant regarded the photographs as offensive, obscene and intrusive - the family's suffering, he said, had been made very nearly unendurable because of the coverage; furthermore, no reasonable effort had been made to establish the background facts. Five days later the newspaper published an interview with the complainant in which he explained that life saving organs from his son's body were donated for transplant, that his son did not have psychiatric problems or live on the streets and that the family did not know why he had taken his life.

The newspaper said it regretted upsetting the family - it had wished to achieve some good by presenting in a powerful fashion what was undoubtedly a tragic, but extremely public, event. Carefully considering how readers might react, it had wished to continue its campaign to prevent suicides from the bridge, which is outside its offices. British Telecom then agreed to fund a telephone link to the Samaritans (although the complainant disagreed that this resulted from coverage about his son). The newspaper further replied that the bridge was closed to the public for more than three hours that day, with crowds gathering as police tried unsuccessfully to talk the young man down. It was therefore a major news story. It explained how it endeavours to highlight inadequate support for persons with mental illnesses and how homeless people had given the newspaper the mistaken information about the deceased's welfare. Also, the complainant's interview and several letters critical of the coverage had been published.

Not Upheld


Dealing with the complaint under Clause 1, the Commission noted that the complainant had been able to correct the mistaken information that had been published about his son in his subsequent interview. It therefore found there was no remaining breach of the Code to be investigated.

In considering the matter under Clause 4, the Commission agreed that there was a public interest in a tragic story which had happened in a public place and attracted a great deal of local attention. It also noted the newspaper's continuing concern about the problems of mental health.

Although there was some concern about the distressing nature of the pictures, the Commission has never sought to adjudicate on matters of taste and offensiveness, which rightly do not fall under the Code.

That said, although the borderline between poor taste and intrusion into privacy can sometimes be a thin one, in this case the Commission considered that the pictures could not be deemed intrusive given the highly public location in which the events took place and the public interest involved.

The complaint was not upheld.


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