Bel Tel: PCC's Echo ruling has 'severe' implications

  • Bel Tel managing editor says ruling ‘could have serious consequences for news-gathering’
  • Ruling would mean ‘many of the raw images from the Troubles would never have been seen’
  • Decision could see PCC‘s ‘case law’-driven process scrapped

Belfast Telegraph managing editor Paul Connolly said he has a ‘profound disagreement’with the PCC over its controversial decision to uphold a recent complaint against the Northern Echo.

Earlier this month the PCC found that a photograph of a man treated by emergency services following a glider crash was an intrusion to grief, despite the fact it was handed to the paper by the local search and rescue team.

Last week the Echo’s editor Peter Barron described it as a ‘controversial’and ‘questionable ruling’that had major implications for news organisations when it comes to reporting breaking stories.

Connolly, who is also the Telegraph’s readers’ editor, has sided with Barron and warned of the potentially “severe” implications of the ruling.

He said: ‘Unless challenged or superseded in some way, it could have serious consequences for news-gathering and, therefore, for the promotion of an open society.’

‘Amazingly, in my opinion, the commission sided with the complainant,” he added. “Clause 5 (intrusion into grief or shock) exists to protect grieving families from harassment.

‘It exists to ensure reports about death and bereavement are published with sensitivity. And to prohibit gratuitous reporting. It does not exist to prohibit legitimate reporting of newsworthy events.’

Connolly also argued that while ‘crash-landing your glider into a field and having to receive medical treatment might lead to unwanted publicity’it was still a ‘legitimate and newsworthy event to record”.

The man’s wife said her husband had been left with significant injuries and the picture was ‘extremely intrusive’and had led to number of ‘distressing telephone calls from friends”.

But Connolly – writing in a Telegraph article headlined PCC is misguided in the case of the misguided pilot – continued: “The implications of this ruling could be severe. Many of the raw images from the Troubles would never have been seen: left locked in photographic vaults. The true face of a generation of violence and grief would have been left unexplored.

‘The same could apply to the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings and the 2011 summer riots, or daily news events like car crashes. Will archive material from newspaper libraries now be prohibited? I do hope the commissioners don’t feel so backed into a corner by recent events that firm judgment begins to get undermined.

‘In a somewhat ironical way, however, this inappropriate ruling may well hasten the day when the PCC’s ‘case law’-driven process is scrapped and replaced by a clear set of agreed guidelines.’

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