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Complainant Name:
Mr Michael Mulford

Clauses Noted: 5

Publication: The Courier (Dundee)


Mr Michael Mulford of Glasgow, complained that approaches made by the Courier & Advertiser (Dundee) after his niece's death lacked sympathy and discretion, in breach of Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Code of Practice.

The complainant's niece had been killed in a road accident with her partner. The complainant said that he was unaware of this when, the following day, the newspaper telephoned his office and in his absence spoke with a member of his staff. The reporter had asked if the young woman who had been killed was a close relative of the complainant. In the complainant's view the reporter was left in no doubt that the complainant did not know of the tragedy. However, the reporter then proceeded to page the complainant, clearly intending to break the news to him.

The editor expressed regret to the complainant for the upset caused, but said that his staff were experienced and had acted with sympathy and discretion. The newspaper was at all times sensitive to the need to avoid intrusion into personal grief, but this could not preclude appropriate approaches to members of the public following tragic accidents and other deaths. Such approaches are terminated by staff if this is the wish of the person contacted, and these conditions were met when trying to approach the complainant, whose office had even provided his pager number. The particular reporter had had a "gut feeling" that the deceased was not a close relative to the complainant. The editor added that, as a former colleague, they had hoped the complainant would have understood their approach and have given guidance as to which member of the family to contact.



Reporters are often involved in seeking comment from those in early stages of grief following a tragedy, and although this form of news gathering can cause distress to those involved, it is not wrong that it should happen - but only, as the Code makes clear, with sympathy and discretion. However the Commission has always held that it is not the job of reporters to break the news of a death to the family or friends of those involved. The Commission noted that the reporter had been provided with the complainants pager number to facilitate direct contact. However, it should have been clear to him by then that the complainant was unaware that there had been an accident. When the complainant returned his message, another member of staff told him that there had been a death - which, by virtue of the fact that his name is rare, must have been from within his family. In doing so, the reporters had clearly overstepped the mark.

The complaint was therefore upheld.


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