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Complainant Name:
A man

Clauses Noted: 3, 8

Publication: Daily Mail

Complaint:

Solicitors complained on behalf of a man that a journalist had interviewed his mother in a residential home for the elderly in breach of Clause 9 (Hospitals) and had intruded into her privacy in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy).

The Commission did not censure the newspaper under Clause 9 and did not uphold the complaint under Clause 3.

The manís solicitors claimed that a reporter from the newspaper had entered a residential home for the elderly in which the manís mother was living, without identifying herself to a responsible executive. She did not obtain permission to enter a non-public area and, they alleged, her actions therefore breached Clause 9 of the Code of Practice. The solicitors further claimed that the reporter, by entering the rooms of the woman concerned and interviewing her at a time when she could not for medical reasons have provided consent, intruded into her privacy in breach of Clause 3 of the Code.

The newspaper emphasised that the brochure for the home noted that Ďit has an open-door policy, which allows residents their independenceí. It did not consider that the home was a hospital-like institution and pointed out that no attempt had been made to monitor its reporter as a visitor. Indeed, when the reporter had been greeted at the door of the home she had said that she had come to see the complainantís mother, had signed the visitorís book using her own name and had been shown to the womanís room. While talking to the woman, the reporter was challenged by the matron of the home. According to the reporter, the woman informed the matron that she knew who the journalist was, knew what she did for a living and was happy for her to be there. The reporter gave her name to the matron and told her which newspaper she worked for. When the matron told her that the woman was not in a position to enter into discussions with a reporter and asked her to leave the building, she duly did. She said that she had not been aware prior to her visit to the home that the complainantís mother could not give consent for an interview because of medical reasons. When the journalist returned to the newspaper, explained the circumstances of her visit and presented her copy it was decided that nothing would be published.

The complainantís solicitors pointed out that the reporter had not told any of the homeís staff that she was a journalist until she was challenged on the subject. She was neither a friend nor a relative of the complainantís mother and it was clear that the home was not open to the public. The complainantís solicitors maintained that the home was a Ďsimilar institutioní as described under Clause 9 of the Code: visitors could only be admitted by staff through a locked door; the majority of residents suffered from diagnosed dementia or other neurological disorders; there was an average of one medical visit by a doctor per day and more frequent visits by other medical personnel. They, therefore, also maintained that the reporterís failure to identify herself to a responsible executive prior to entering the home and, indeed, the womanís private rooms, amounted to a breach of the Code. By entering the womanís rooms and carrying out an interview without consent the reporter had also invaded her privacy in breach of Clause 3 of the Code.

Decision:
Not Upheld

Adjudication:

Dealing first with the complaint under Clause 9, the central issue for the Commission to consider was whether the home, a residential home for the elderly, could be regarded as Ďa hospital or similar institutioní.

During its investigation into this complaint the Commission established that a large number of residents of the home were in fact in need of supervision for a number of medical conditions - something that was not apparent from the homeís literature but which meant that the home could reasonably be termed a Ďsimilar institutioní under the Code. The journalist should, had she known about the sort of institution that the home was, have identified herself to a responsible executive and failure to do so meant that there was a technical breach of the Code.

However, there was also strong evidence to suggest that this breach of the Code was not only inadvertent but would have been avoided had the nature of the institution been clearer. From the homeís literature there did not appear to be anything that suggested that its residents generally had medical problems requiring a level of care similar to that found in a hospital or similar institution. Indeed, it deliberately emphasised its openness and the fact that residents were allowed their independence. Furthermore, the Commission noted that when the journalist arrived at the home she had not been told that the woman whom she wanted to see was not fit to see her - despite the fact that it was the first time that the journalist had been to the home. While the member of staff may have thought that the journalist was a friend of the complainantís mother, and had consequently not questioned her, it was the case the journalist had not been told anything by any member of staff to challenge her belief that the home was unlike a hospital or similar institution.

The Commission was pleased that the newspaper, once the facts of the matter had become clearer, had acted responsibly in not publishing the results of the reporterís conversation with the complainantís mother. This indicated that had the nature of the home been clearer sooner the reporterís approach would have been handled differently. For all these reasons the Commission did not censure the newspaper, which had acted diligently in complying with the Code once it had become aware of the situation

With regard to the alleged breach of Clause 3 of the Code, the Commission emphasised that this Clause generally relates to printed material and noted that in this instance no article had been published as a result of information gained from the visit. The Commission did not consider that by interviewing the complainantís mother in her private rooms the reporter had intruded into her privacy in breach of Clause 3 of the Code. It appeared to be the case that the reporter was unaware that the woman could not, for medical reasons, have provided consent to give an interview.


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More generally, the Commission wished to make clear that journalists should satisfy themselves in advance that any planned approach to individuals will be in compliance with the Code of Practice. They should think hard about how they approach people who are in institutions, especially when an individualís state of health might render them particularly vulnerable.



Report:
59



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