PCC upholds complaint against That's Life magazine for payment to relative of convicted criminal
The Press Complaints Commission has upheld a complaint under Clause 16 (Payment to criminals) of the Editors' Code of Practice against That's Life, following a payment by the magazine to a relative of a convicted criminal.
The story was an account of the murder of a man by his stepson, Christopher Hodgson, which was told from the perspective of Mr Hodgson's sister, Louise Hodgson. The complainant, Treena McIntyre, was the sister of the victim. She complained to the PCC that the magazine article had presented Mr Hodgson in an inappropriately sympathetic light; in her view, the account ought not to have been published.
The magazine said it had made a payment for the feature to Ms Hodgson - whom it viewed as a victim rather than as an "associate" of Mr Hodgson - only after careful consideration. It argued that Ms Hodgson had not sought to glorify or glamorise the crime in her account, which it said could not be understood as having "exploited" the crime under the terms of Clause 16.
Although the Commission noted that it had some sympathy with Ms Hodgson's position, it did not accept that she was a "victim" of the crime. As Mr Hodgson's sister, she was clearly his "associate". The magazine had not sought to argue that the payment was justified in the public interest. The Commission ruled that the material related "related specifically to the crime and to his criminality"; by receiving payment for the story, Ms Hodgson had "directly benefitted" from her brother's crime in breach of Clause 16.
A separate complaint made under Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors' Code was not upheld.
Charlotte Dewar, Head of Complaints and Pre-publication Services, said: "Complaints to the Commission under this Clause of the Code are relatively rare. This ruling provides of clear example of how the Commission interprets the Code's prohibition on payments for material that seeks to "exploit" a particular crime when there is no public interest in its publication."
Notes to editors:
1. To read the adjudication (which has been published in this week's edition of the magazine), please click here.
2. Clause 16 (Payment to criminals) of the Editors' Code of Practice states:
Clause 16 (*Payment to criminals)
i) Payment or offers of payment for stories, pictures or information, which seek to exploit a particular crime or to glorify or glamorise crime in general, must not be made directly or via agents to convicted or confessed criminals or to their associates - who may include family, friends and colleagues.
ii) Editors invoking the public interest to justify payment or offers would need to demonstrate that there was good reason to believe the public interest would be served. If, despite payment, no public interest emerged, then the material should not be published.
NB: There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.
3. For more information, please contact Catherine Speller on 020 7831 0022 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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