Medway paper rapped over 'sick girl' story

By Dominic Ponsford

The Medway edition of the Kent Messenger has been found guilty of
breaching the Editors’ Code of Practice after falsely claiming that a
little girl was seriously ill.

The Press Complaints Commission found that the report was inaccurate (Clause 1) and intrusive of a child’s privacy (Clause 6).

The
story in question detailed how a woman was raising money for a
16-yearold boy and a 14-year-old girl to go on holiday to Florida. It
stated that they were both “seriously ill”, spent their lives in and
out of hospital and that the child suffered from a muscle-wasting
disease.

The girl’s mother complained that her daughter suffered
from a much less serious condition and had never spent a night in
hospital. She said that she had only appeared in a photo to accompany
the news story in order to give moral support to the sick boy, her
cousin.

The complainant was present when the photograph was taken
and had told the photographer that she would need to speak to the
journalist before any article was printed.

But no one from the
Kent Messenger contacted her before publication and she said that a
later clarification was completely inadequate.

The newspaper
apologised for any distress that had been caused and said that it had
been contacted by the fundraiser who had given them details of the
daughter’s condition. Messenger staff said they had dealt with the
fundraiser before and felt safe to assume she was speaking with the
authority of the parents.

Upholding the complaint, the PCC said:
“While the newspaper’s motives in publicising the fundraising
initiative appear to have been honourable, the references in the
article to the state of the girl’s health did seem to be seriously
inaccurate.

“As soon as this became apparent, the newspaper should have published a prominent correction and apology.

Bearing
in mind the age of the girl, and both the gravity of the error and the
fact that it was avoidable, the commission agreed with the complainant
thatthe published clarification was wholly inadequate. This was a
significant breach of Clause 1.

“There was also a breach of
Clause 6. It was not sufficient to argue that the information
about the girl’s health had been provided by the fundraiser. She was
clearly not in a position under the Code to give consent for it to
appear. The result of the paper’s failure to seek proper parental
consent was an intrusion into the private life of a 14-year-old.

“Finally,
however, given that the complainant was present when the photograph of
her daughter was taken, there was no breach of the code in relation to
the manner in which the picture was obtained.”

PCC complaint

BALLYMONEY CHRONICLE

The Ballymoney Chronicle was accused of being inaccurate, intrusive
and of using subterfuge in a seemingly innocent story about a woman
running the London Marathon for charity.

The Press Complaints Commission found that the story did breach one
clause of the code (privacy) but decided not to censure the paper.

The
complainant, Merlyn Brown from Coleraine, produced a sponsorship
leaflet to give to family and friends prior to her London Marathon
fundraising bid.

She said it had been taken from her desk at work without permission and information used on the Chronicle’s front page.

Brown
said that although she had told the paper she did not want publicity,
the article gave the impression that she had been interviewed by the
newspaper.

She said the inclusion of her home telephone number in
the article, which had resulted in hoax telephone calls, and the
publication of information about her family’s health problems, had
intruded into her privacy.

The Chronicle said its intention was
to promote a prominent charity and highlight a local good-news story.
It provided a signed statement claiming that Brown had given its staff
photographer a copy of the leaflet at an event at her work.

The
editor admitted that a “breakdown in communication” had occurred when
the newspaper attempted to discuss the article with Brown.

The
PCC said: “Publication of an ex-directory phone number, in
circumstances where the complainant had telephoned the newspaper in
advance of publication to request no publicity, raised a breach of the
code.

However, there were mitigating factors. In particular, the
commission took account of the fact that the complainant had
voluntarily placed the information into the public domain to some
degree by publishing it in a leaflet, albeit for limited circulation.”

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