By Jean Morgan
The Scottish News of the World harassed a lesbian weather girl at BBC Scotland after it was revealed she was having a “DIY” baby with her female partner, the Press Complaints Commission has ruled.
The Commission upheld a complaint from Judith Tonner about an article headlined “Gay BBC weather girl is having DIY baby” on 21 July, 2002. The newspaper had breached the Code of Practice in continuing to pursue her after a BBC Scotland representative had made it clear she did not want to speak about her pregnancy, it said.
It also partly upheld Tonner’s complaint that her privacy had been invaded by the story but dismissed complaints of intrusion into grief because of a previous miscarriage and that the story was discriminatory in mentioning her sexuality.
Tonner had complained through BBC Scotland that the article was intrusive in its intimate coverage of her pregnancy and pejorative in its reference to her sexuality. She said she had suffered a miscarriage – which she told the newspaper about at the first opportunity – the previous year and was particularly distressed at the time.
The newspaper had harassed her by persistently seeking her comments – a reporter approached her on 18 July, telephoned the next day and was told to speak to a representative of the BBC, but returned the following day to seek an interview.
The newspaper pointed out that Tonner’s pregnancy was well known, physically obvious and could not be considered a private matter. The manner of conception was also widely known and its details raised a subject of considerable public interest. The NoW also pointed out that Tonner had subsequently been happy to pose for a photograph with other mothers for a national newspaper.
The Commission said it had previously accepted that stories about same-sex parenting had a public interest element to them – particularly so in the current climate of political debate about the subject.
In this case, however, the Commission considered that although the reporting of the pregnancy was not intrusive, the detailed description of the method of conception and the fact that the complainant had previously had a miscarriage (when it should have been obvious she had revealed the fact of the miscarriage to the newspaper on a confidential basis) were intrusive.
As the reporter had been made aware of Tonner’s position at least once before her final approach, the Commission considered that a breach of the Code had been