Clauses Noted: 14
Publication: Lancashire Telegraph
A man complained to the Press Complaints Commission that an article headlined “Burnley bodies may be sent to Blackburn”, published on 9 March 2007 in the Lancashire Telegraph, had failed to protect him as a confidential source of information in breach of Clause 14 (Confidential Sources).
The complaint was upheld.
The complainant had spoken to a reporter from the newspaper about the proposed closure of Burnley’s mortuary on condition that he was not identified. However, in the article he was referred to as “a worker at Burnley’s mortuary”. Because he was one of only two people who worked at the mortuary – the other being his boss – his employers had been able to identify him as the source of the information. He had subsequently been dismissed on grounds of gross misconduct for making his remarks to the newspaper.
The newspaper said it did not consider the complainant to be a confidential source because he had not revealed confidential information. A number of health workers in the area had been informed of the proposed mortuary closure. In any case, although the newspaper had agreed not to identify the complainant by name, it had not been told that indirect identification was also to be avoided. The reporter had not known, and had no reason to know, that the man was one of only two employees at the mortuary. The editor offered to send the complainant a private letter of regret.
The newspaper had gone some way to protecting the complainant as a source of information, and his identification appeared to have been unintentional. But given that the need for confidentiality had been established between the parties, the onus was on the newspaper to establish whether the form of words it proposed to use would have effectively identified the complainant in any case. The unfortunate result of not doing so was the complainant’s exposure as a source of information. This was a breach of the Code.
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