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Complainant Name:
A man v The Bolton News

Clauses Noted: 1, 3, 12, 14

Publication: The Bolton News


A man complained to the Press Complaints Commission that an article published in The Bolton News in March 2013 was intrusive in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) and had identified him in breach of Clause 14 (Confidential sources) of the Editors' Code of Practice. The complainant also contended that the coverage had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Code.

The complaint was not upheld.

The complainant had contacted the newspaper to alert it to his concerns about the misuse of the blue badge system in Bolton's car parks. The article reported his account of an incident of alleged misuse, along with his name, age and partial address. It noted that both he and his wife (who was not named) were disabled and identified their medical conditions. While the complainant acknowledged that he had initiated the contact with the newspaper, he said no consent had been sought for the publication of the couple's personal information. He considered that it could lead to reprisals and suggested that his wish for anonymity should have been evident to the newspaper when he cancelled an appointment to be photographed for the story; he had made clear at this point that the publication of a picture of him was not a good idea "as [he] didn't want to be identified", due to his wife's profession. The complainant said he had recordings of his calls with the reporter but declined to provide them to the Commission.

The complainant also said that the headline's suggestion that he had expressed "anger" about the blue badge abuse was inaccurate; he only felt "disappointment". He expressed concern about the description of the local council's abrogation of duties regarding blue badges as a "legal loophole", and what he considered as an inaccurate suggestion in the article that his wife had been present when he witnessed the alleged infraction. He considered that his and his wife's disabilities were irrelevant to the story and said that he had only provided details of their conditions following a question from the reporter.

The newspaper said that the information had been freely provided by the complainant, who had approached the newspaper about his concerns; it noted that this was not the first occasion on which he had brought local issues to its attention in this way and that in addition he maintained a blog on which he commented about local issues. During the telephone conversation in which the complainant had identified his and his wife's medical conditions, he had referred to his wife being present in the room, and the newspaper had understood from this that she consented to the publication of the information. While it accepted that the complainant had changed his mind about being photographed, it denied that he had asked to be treated as a confidential source or requested that any detail be withheld from its report.

Not Upheld


Clause 14 (Confidential sources) states that "journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information". Where an individual initiates contact with a newspaper with the aim of providing information for publication, there is a basic expectation that this information will be attributable. Clause 14 is generally engaged only in instances where an agreement, of some form, has been reached that the individual will be treated as a confidential source. On this occasion, while the complainant suggested that the newspaper should have inferred his position, he had not sought to argue that he had initiated a conversation about the issue or reached such an agreement with the newspaper. There was no breach of Clause 14.

The Commission next considered the matter under Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors' Code, which states that "everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence"; that "editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent"; and that "account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information". The complainant had contacted the newspaper and provided it with information about the incident. He had also disclosed information about his medical condition without stating that this was to be treated confidentially. The Commission considered that it was reasonable, in all the circumstances, for the newspaper to proceed on the basis that the information provided by the complainant, including about his medical condition, was intended for publication. There was no breach of Clause 3 on this point.

The situation with regard to the complainant's wife was less clear cut. The Commission has made clear, on a number of occasions, that medical information poses a significant potential for intrusion and should be treated with caution, particularly where it has been provided by a third party. The Commission, however, assesses each complaint based on a careful consideration of the particular circumstances.

The complainant had contacted the newspaper, as he had done on previous occasions, to raise an issue of some local importance in which he and his wife were involved. In the course of a conversation about the proposed publication of the story, the complainant had chosen to inform the newspaper that his wife was present in the room. The clear implication of this, in the view of the Commission, was that she was aware of the complainant's conversation with the reporter, that she was aware that he was seeking to publicise his concern, and that she was in agreement. The Commission considered that the newspaper had reasonably understood from this that the complainant was also acting on his wife's behalf at the time he disclosed the information relating to her medical condition, particularly given that the condition was relevant to the views being expressed. The Commission also bore in mind that the information published by the newspaper was limited to the type of medical condition and did not include any further detail regarding her health or treatment. The complaint under Clause 3 was not upheld.

The remaining issues related to Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination). Clause 1 states that newspapers must take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information and requires that significant inaccuracies, once recognised, must be corrected. The Commission did not consider that the summary of the complainant's position in the headline and the reference to the "loophole" was significantly misleading in the context of the article, which set out his position in detail. Nor was the reference to his wife significantly inaccurate: the article had made clear that it was the complainant who had reported the incident to the authorities. There were no further issues to pursue in relation to Clause 1.

Clause 12 (ii) states that details of an individual's physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story. The article concerned the misuse of blue badges, and the complainant had commented on the effect of such activity on disabled people. In this context, the fact of the complainant's and his wife's disability - which he had disclosed to the newspaper in this connection - was plainly relevant. There was no breach of Clause 12.

Date Published:

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