Clauses Noted: 1, 5
Publication: Halifax Courier
Nick Crossley complained to the Press Complaints Commission through John Pickering & Partners solicitors that an article headlined "Crossley tycoon: I'm dying", published in the Halifax Courier on 17 March 2012, was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) and insensitive in breach of Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors' Code of Practice.
The complaint was upheld under Clause 5.
The complainant has malignant mesothelioma. The article reported that he had initiated legal proceedings seeking compensation from his former employer on the grounds that it had negligently failed to protect him from exposure to asbestos in the workplace. The complainant said the article's headline suggested that he had used the phrase "I'm dying", which was both inaccurate and insensitive: although his condition is terminal, he considers himself to be "living with mesothelioma". The newspaper had "put words into his mouth"; he had never made such a remark - or anything that could be interpreted as such - either to the newspaper's journalist (to whom he had given no comment) or in his legal claim. The piece had been hurtful and distressing to the complainant and his family, and had led to the departure of an employee from his business.
The newspaper wrote privately to the complainant apologising for any distress caused. Nonetheless, it did not accept that it had breached the Code. It said the headline was a summary of the complainant's legal case, including the information - reported in publicly available documents - that he was "aware his condition is terminal" and that he and his family had been "devastated" by the diagnosis. It noted that it had not used quotation marks around the headline and said that the headline would have been understood by readers, correctly, as a summary of the complainant's situation. It did not accept that the coverage was intrusive or insensitive, and it emphasised that the piece had been based on information already in the public domain.
Under the terms of Clause 5 of the Code, "in cases involving grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings, such as inquests".
This was an exceptionally difficult and finely balanced case. The newspaper had been entitled to report on the details of the complainant's legal case, including his prognosis, as this was already in the public domain. The Commission accepted that it had not been the newspaper's intention to cause distress to the complainant, but it noted that the newspaper had not argued that the complainant had described himself as "dying". The Commission accepted that in some circumstances, the use of the first person in a headline summarising an individual's perspective is a legitimate technique. In this instance, however, the subject of the headline was exceptionally and intensely personal. In all the circumstances, the Commission concluded that using the first person, in the headline, as a means to report the complainant's prognosis in this manner could not be considered as handling publication sensitively. It therefore upheld the complaint under Clause 5.
The complainant had also raised concerns about the headline under the terms of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code, which sets out that "the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information" and that "a significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected". In approaching complaints about the accuracy of headlines, the Commission takes account of the context in which they appear. The focus of the report was the complainant's legal claim, and the article did not suggest that the complainant had spoken to the newspaper. The Commission concluded that readers would have understood that the details about the complainant's claim, including the information about his prognosis, had been taken from publicly available documents, and that readers would not have been misled as to the factual position by the article taken as a whole. There was no breach of Clause 1.
<< Go Back