Clauses Noted: 1, 2
Publication: The Voice
J R Jones (Solicitors) of London E15, complained on behalf of a client that an article in The Voice on 13 October 1997, headlined "'Campaign of hate has ruined me'", included an inaccuracy regarding her family in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) and that the newspaper did not give their client an opportunity to reply, in breach of Clause 2 (Opportunity to Reply) of the Code of Practice.
The article reported the story of a man who had been acquitted of four counts of indecent assault on a young girl. He claimed that - following his acquittal - the family of the girl had made his life hell by phoning a radio programme to describe him on air as a paedophile and by threatening to paste his name around the local area.
The complainant is the mother of the young girl who made the allegations against the man featured in the report. A reporter from the paper had telephoned her to ask questions about the case but had not, she said, indicated the nature of the allegations that had been made by the man. She denied that the family had telephoned the radio programme or had any contact with the man following the trial. She said that her daughter was distressed by the report. The complainant believed that an opportunity to reply should have been given to the inaccuracies.
The newspaper responded that their reporter had telephoned the complainant prior to publication and had asked her if the man's allegations regarding the family's behaviour were accurate. They said that she had responded that the man was guilty of rape and that she would paste posters on trees declaring this.
With regard to the conversation between the complainant and the reporter, the Commission was faced with a straightforward conflict of evidence. However, regardless of the nature of their discussion, the published article did not contain any comment from the complainant in reply to the serious allegations made by the man. The Commission noted that the newspaper had not responded as to whether the complainant had commented regarding the radio programme and was not of the view that, in accordance with the Code, sufficient care had been taken to ensure the piece was accurate. In particular, the Commission was concerned at the newspaper's treatment of a story which so centrally affected a child and believed that in these circumstances, it was vital that the mother should have had the opportunity to comment.
The complaint was upheld.
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