Closer: rapped by the commission
Closer has been rapped by the Press Complaints Commission for paying the boyfriend of Louise Woodward, the nanny convicted of involuntary manslaughter of a child, for a picture of her.
The commission upheld the complaint under clause 17 of the Editors’ Code of Practice. This says payments for material should not be made to convicted criminals or their associates unless it is in the public interest.
It said the magazine had failed to justify why the payment to Woodward’s boyfriend was necessary or how its publication had been in the public interest.
Closer ran an interview in January with Woodward, who is now a trainee lawyer, headlined “I want to be a lawyer to help people”.
Julie Clark, of Bwlchgwyn, complained to the PCC because she said she was concerned that Woodward had benefited financially from the article despite the code’s restrictions.
Closer maintained that the subject matter of the interview – which concerned Woodward’s rehabilitation as a trainee lawyer – was in the public interest, and said she had not sought, and did not obtain, any payment for the interview. However, the magazine accepted that a fee had been paid to her boyfriend for a photograph.
The PCC said in its adjudication: “Clause 17 states that payment must not be made to the associates of convicted criminals except where the material concerned ought to be published in the public interest and payment is necessary for this to be done.
“The sole issue under the code was, therefore, the payment of Woodward’s partner for the photograph. It was not apparent to the commission how public interest was served by publication.
Nor had the magazine demonstrated why the payment was necessary. In these circumstances, it was clear that there had been a breach of the code.”
In 1992, the PCC censured Hello! for paying convicted fraudster Darius Guppy for pictures and stories about him and his wife. In 1997, the commission upheld a complaint against Take a Break for paying for a story about how a prision nurse formed a relationship with a prisoner and later helped him to abscond. Front also had a complaint upheld in 1999 for paying gangland criminal Reggie Kray for articles, by making a donation to the campaign to free him.
The Press Complaints Commission has responded to a call from MPs that it should liaise with broadcasters on how best to protect the public from “media scrums”.
The PCC has met with ITN, the BBC and Sky News over the issue.
It said in future, it would forward complainants’ concerns to the broadcasters. It maintained this would work in the interests of the public by ensuring that problems can be dealt with as a result of just one communication.
The PCC added broadcasters “already have an effective and informal mechanism for responding to any problems that are raised directly with them”.
The 2003 select committee report into Privacy and Media Intrusion recommended that the PCC should engage with broadcasters “to develop ways of tackling media scrums”.
By Jon Slattery