Scottish Daily Mail approaches amounted to 'harassment'

The Scottish Daily Mail has been censured by the Press Complaints Commission for ‘harassment’ after approaching the father of a university student involved in the tuition fees protests in London.

According to a PCC judgement issued today, journalists from the paper persisted in approaching the man even though he made clear he did not want to speak about the matter – thereby breaching clause four of the Editors’ Code (Harassment).

The paper published two stories about the student’s involvement in the protests, including a photograph of him apparently attempting to take a policeman’s hat.

Reporters and photographers from the paper than visited his family home in Scotland four times within the space of 24 hours seeking a comment. On each occasion the family made clear they did not wish to speak to journalists. According to the PCC, the complainant in this case called the police when he was appoached a further time near his home.

The Scottish Daily Mail told the PCC that its “journalists had returned to the property because they had received new information that the complainant’s son had been seen entering the home” and they said that when asked to leave the property, they did.

The PCC said it accepted that there was a “limited public interest” in seeking the response of the complainant’s son to the allegations against him. But it added that given “both the complainant and his family had been clear about not wanting to comment publicly about their situation” it judged that the persistent questioning of someone not at the centre of the story, and against whom no allegations of impropriety had been made, was a breach of the code”.

Director of the PCC Stephen Abell said: “The harassment clause makes very clear that persistent approaches from journalists once they have been asked to desist are not permitted unless there is a strong overriding public interest, which was not a feature of this case. The Editors’ Code covers newsgathering techniques as well as published editorial content; this critical ruling is an important reminder of the sort of behaviour the Commission judges unacceptable under the Code.”

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