Sick kid gaffe lands Kent Messenger in hot water

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 (Clause 6).
 
The story in question detailed how a woman was
raising money for a 16-year-old 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
girl 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 woman fundraiser on a
number of occasions 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
that the 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
newspaper’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.”
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