PCC upholds complaint against Woman following custody battle story
The Press Complaints Commission has upheld a complaint against Woman under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice after a first-person story it published about a custody battle was disputed by the former husband of the woman who had told her story.
The article was an account of the couple's custody dispute of their son, focusing particularly on the mother's decision to take the child from Cyprus to the UK without the complainant's consent. He contested a number of claims she had made, most notably that the child was taken to the UK because he needed medical care that was not available in Cyprus. He had not been contacted by the magazine before publication. The magazine said this was because he had not been accused of any wrong doing; however, in order to check the veracity of the piece, it had checked the text with the complainant's former mother-in-law to before going to print. Following the complaint, the magazine offered to publish a letter from the complainant, or an article from his point from view, as a means of addressing his concerns.
In its adjudication, the Commission firstly made clear that it was "not in a position to resolve the factual dispute at the heart of this story". Its role here was to assess whether or not the magazine had taken care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information. It ruled that although there is no specific requirement in the Code to contact those who feature in stories before publication, in reality, they will often need to do so in order that the veracity of significant claims and allegations can be established. The Commission judged that "such care was necessary in this case", where the magazine had relied primarily on the account of one party (who had not supplied documentary evidence to support her position), and had published "highly contentious" material.
Stephen Abell, Director of the PCC, said: "This case raises the important principle of prior notification. While journalists are not explicitly required to contact an individual at the centre of a story before publication, a failure to verify information and obtain the comments of that individual can raise a breach of the Editors' Code. In this case, the magazine should have gone to the complainant, especially given the contentious nature of the article, and informed readers of his response to the claims."
Notes to editors
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