The Press Complaints Commission will issue new industry guidance after Dundee-based daily the Courier & Advertiser published material likely to identify two young victims of sexual abuse.
The breaches came in a court report on a man who admitted sexually assaulting the girls, who were both under 16 at the time of the abuse.
The Courier’s story mentioned the girls’ age and the locations where the abuse had taken place, including two of the streets where the children lived.
The victims’ mothers made separate complaints to the PCC arguing that because there were relatively few houses on the streets, and because the report also stated their daughters’ ages, both could be identified in their local communities.
The complainants alleged the Courier report breached clause 3 (privacy), clause 7 (children in sex cases) and clause 11(victims of sexual assault) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
A statement released by the regulator today said: ‘The newspaper accepted that its normal practice of only publishing outline details of cases involving sexual offences had not been properly followed.
‘It removed the partial addresses from its online archive and circulated a note to staff reminding them of their obligations under the Code of Practice. In addition, the editor sent letters of apology to each complainant.”
While it welcomed these steps, the commission concluded that ‘this was a bad mistake… The failure of the newspaper properly to consider the likely consequences of publishing information in the report, especially the references to the girls’ partial addresses, was a serious one”.
The Courier breach comes after a number of similar complaints were upheld by the PCC over the past year.
PCC director Stephen Abell said: ‘The Editors’ Code is very clear about the identification of victims of sexual assault. In the vast majority of reports about sexual crimes newspapers take great care to abide by these requirements.
‘However, if in doubt, newspapers should always err on the side of caution when considering what details to publish. The commission is committed to ensuring the highest standards in this area.
‘The PCC seeks always to help vulnerable people in its work, and it is hard to think of an issue more important than the protection of victims of sexual assault. That is why we will shortly be issuing guidance to help prevent any future breaches of the Code from occurring.”
The PCC’s adjudication was published by the Courier on Friday in print and online.