Local weeklies censured by PCC over 'model pix cop' agency story

Two weekly newspapers have been criticised by the Press Complaints Commission after the watchdog said it was “deeply concerned” with their handling of a complaint from a former police officer.

Rebecca Morris complained to the PCC over a story headlined “Model pix cop has quit force” that appeared in the Stourbridge News and its sister title the Halesowen News, claiming the PCSO  had left the police following press reports about photographs of her modelling.

At the heart of the complaint was her denial that she was “carving out a second career as a motor show promotions model”.

Morris insisted that she not been paid for the photographs that appeared online, which she said had been taken as part of a hobby, and felt the article inaccurately suggested she left the job because of the publicity surrounding the pictures.

Both newspapers took 45 days to provide an initial response to the complaint.  

In their defence, they said the article was based on agency copy and so it “therefore could not provide any details about the journalist’s newsgathering methods”.

They also denied having published any inaccuracies and did not accept that the article suggested Morris had left her job because of  press coverage

The papers also “maintained that the complainant had promoted herself as a model seeking paid employment in that field”.

The complaint under Article 1 (accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice was upheld.

In its adjudication the PCC said:

The complainant had raised a number of significant concerns about the accuracy of the story. The Commission noted that the newspaper stood by its story.

However, it had provided its initial comments on the complaint only after a delay of over six weeks, and it had not provided evidence to corroborate the disputed claims, including most substantively that the complainant had been “carving out a second career” as a model, or to demonstrate that it had taken care, as required by Clause 1 (Accuracy), not to publish inaccurate or misleading information.

The Commission was deeply concerned by the newspaper’s handling of the complaint: it had failed to provide a substantive response within a reasonable timeframe, and it had suggested in correspondence that it could not comment on the newsgathering methods employed by the agency that had supplied the copy.Local 

The preamble to the Code makes clear that editors must “co-operate swiftly with the PCC in the resolution of complaints” and further that they should take care to ensure that the Code’s terms are “observed rigorously by all editorial staff and external contributors”. The Commission emphasised that this includes agency reporters who supply material to subscribing publications. 

The Commission upheld the complaint under Clause 1 and noted that after issuing its decision it would seek confirmation that the newspaper understood its obligation under the Code to assist the Commission’s inquiries promptly and fully.

 

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