PCC let-off for newspaper after road crash privacy complaint

The Wiltshire Gazette & Herald has escaped censure from the Press Complaints Commission after it apologised and printed a critical letter from the family of an elderly road accident victim who it pictured receiving emergency treatment.

On 13 February the paper’s website published news and pictures from a road crash headlined featuring a woman being treated by emergency services. Unnamed police officers were quoted as having said she was ‘fighting for her life”, though the PCC said this was not true.

The woman’s family argued the story, and a subsequent article in the Gazette & Herald the next day, was in breach of four clauses of the Code of Conduct: one (accuracy), two (right of reply) three (privacy)and five (intrusion into shock of grief).

The woman’s face was partially visible on the website story but she was not named – though her car and number plate could be seen.

The PCC ruled today that the paper’s editor had done enough through ‘remedial action’and did not uphold the complaint.

The paper took the story down from its website immediately after receiving the complaint via the police, printed a critical letter with an editorial note of apology in the next edition and sent a private letter of apology.

The commission said in its adjudication: ‘Newspapers are of course entitled to publish stories and pictures of serious road accidents, which take place in public and often have wide-reaching consequences.

‘Nonetheless, the code of conduct requires newspapers to handle publication sensitively and to respect the privacy and health of those involved.

‘There is a clear need for newspapers to exercise caution when publishing images that relate to a person’s health and medical treatment, even if they are taken in public places.”

The commission continued: ‘Rare and large-scale events such as terrorist attacks and natural disasters involve a degree of public interest so great that it may be proportionate and appropriate to show images of their aftermath without the consent of those involved.

‘On this occasion, the commission considered that there was insufficient public interest in a more routine incident such as a car crash to override the rights to privacy of the victim.”

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