Clauses Noted: 5
Publication: Daily Record
Ms Susan Thomson complained to the Press Complaints Commission that an article headlined "Arthur's Seat body find", published in the Daily Record on 13 June 2011, had intruded into her family's grief in breach of Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors' Code of Practice.
The complaint was upheld.
The article reported that a body had been found on a footpath close to Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh and was accompanied by a photograph of the deceased wrapped in sheeting. The complainant, the aunt of the deceased, said that the newspaper's use of the image was insensitive and had caused distress to family and friends: while her nephew was covered loosely, the outline of his arms and body could clearly be seen. The complainant said that her nephew was not a celebrity and the newspaper should have exercised a level of restraint rather than publishing such an explicit photograph which had upset and shocked the many who knew him.
The newspaper apologised to the complainant and her family for the distress and upset caused by the publication of the photograph, which had been removed from the online version of the article. It did not accept a breach of the Code, however: its duty was to inform the public of such tragic events and there was always a difficult balance to strike. In this case, the decision to publish was not taken lightly; rather, the body was covered and visible to the public and, in those circumstances, the publication was a matter of editorial judgement. Such photographs were unfortunate, but not uncommon. That said, the newspaper was willing to publish an apology to the family.
The complainant did not accept the sincerity of the newspaper's apology. She did not take issue with the reporting of the tragedy: it was the graphic photograph which had caused the upset. In addition, she said that the body was not publicly visible as it was 300ft up on the side of a cliff, which, she said, led the police not to erect a privacy screen.
Newspapers are fully entitled to report on tragic events which take place in public, some of which - by their very nature - will cause distress and upset to family and friends. This will often include the taking and publishing of photographs. The overriding requirement under Clause 5 of the Editors' Code is that publication must be "handled sensitively" at times of grief or shock.
The Commission recognised that the choice of photographs to accompany stories of deaths can be an extremely difficult editorial decision. The full context of the article and level of information contained in the image will generally be key factors. In this case, it agreed that it was legitimate for the newspaper to report that a body had been found, and noted that it had occurred at a well-known location, in a public place.
However, in all the circumstances, it did not think that this was sufficient to justify the specific nature of the photograph. In the Commission's view, the outline of the body through the sheeting would have been visible to readers. It quite understood why this had caused the complainant and her family such distress. The Commission considered that the use of this type of explicit image did not meet the Code's requirement of handling publication "sensitively".
While the Commission welcomed the newspaper's offer to apologise, it upheld the complaint.
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