PCC upholds complaint against local paper over front-page report of death
The Press Complaints Commission has upheld a complaint under Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors' Code of Practice, following a front-page report about the death of a local man who had taken his own life. The PCC's critical adjudication has been published today in the Herald & Post (Luton) with a front-page trail, which has been agreed in advance with the PCC.
The complainant was the civil partner of the deceased man, Mr Ameet Mohabeer. At the time of his death a few days before publication, Mr Mohabeer had been facing sexual assault charges. The complainant said that as Mr Mohabeer had pleaded not guilty to the charges, the use of the term ‘pervert' in the headline was insensitive and inaccurate. He also raised concerns under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code about the newspaper's claim that Mr Mohabeer was due in court to enter a plea a few days after his death: in fact, Mr Mohabeer had already pleaded not guilty. The Herald & Post acknowledged that the reference to the date of the court date was inaccurate, and published a front-page correction and apology on this point on receipt of the PCC complaint. Although it amended the headline to the online article, it did not believe that the use of the term ‘pervert' in this context breached Clause 5.
The Commission made clear that the newspaper was entitled to report the allegations against Mr Mohabeer and the existence of the criminal case in the context of his death; Clause 5 is not intended to restrict the right to report legal proceedings. However, it does set out that "publication should be handled sensitively", and this principle was the main test for the Commission. Given that Mr Mohabeer had been contesting the sexual abuse charges and had not been convicted of any crime at the time of his death, the use of the term ‘pervert' (which it said was "clearly a pejorative and colloquial term") was "unacceptable and gratuitous". The presentation of the article so soon after the death "constituted insensitive publication" under the terms of Clause 5; the complaint under this part of the Code was therefore upheld.
The complaint under Clause 1 (Accuracy) was judged to raise a technical breach of the Code, but the published correction and apology represented a sufficient form of remedial action. The newspaper was not censured on this point.
Stephen Abell, Director of the PCC, commented: "This case is an important contribution to the Commission's case law, which sets out specific standards expected of journalists. Reporting death can be a difficult area, with a need for balance between the right of the public to be informed and the need to protect those personally affected by it. This ruling by the Commission sets down an important marker in reminding editors and journalists that, whatever the circumstances of a particular story, the Commission will always expect publication to be handled sensitivity".
Notes to Editors:
1. The PCC is an independent body which administers the system of self-regulation for the press. It does so primarily by dealing with complaints, framed within the terms of the Editors' Code of Practice, about the editorial content of newspapers and magazines (and their websites, including editorial audio-visual material) and the conduct of journalists.
3. The preamble to Editors' Code now requires the prominence of critical adjudications to be agreed with the PCC Director in advance of publication. For more information about the announcement of this change (which took effect on 1 January 2012), please click here.
4. For more information, please contact Jonathan Collett on 020 7438 1246 or 07740 896805.
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