A Daily Record photograph used in the story of a man whose body was found near Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh breached Editors’ Code guidelines on intrusion into grief.
The article headlined: ‘Arthur’s Seat body find’published on 13 June 2011 included a photograph of the man’s body wrapped in sheeting.
The complainant Susan Thomson, the man’s aunt, had no issue with the report itself but claimed the accompanying photograph – in which the outline of her nephew’s arms and body could be seen – was insensitive and caused distress to family and friends.
Her nephew was not a celebrity and the newspaper should have exercised a ‘level of restraint rather than publishing such an explicit photograph”, she complained.
The Record was apologetic for the distress caused but did not accept it had breached clause 5 of the Editors’ Code (intrusion into grief or shock).
The paper argued that it was its duty to inform the public of tragic events and that there was always a ‘difficult balance to strike”, claiming the decision to publish the photograph was ‘not taken lightly”.
In its defence it said the body was covered and visible to the public, adding that while such photographs were unfortunate they were not uncommon.
It removed the photograph from the online version of the article and offered to publish an apology to the family.
But Thomson did not accept the sincerity of the newspaper’s apology and rejected the paper’s claim that the body was visible to the public, noting that her nephew was found 300ft up on the side of a cliff and the police had not erected a privacy screen.
In its adjudication the Press Complaints Commission found there was no justification for the ‘very specific nature’of the photograph.
While newspapers were entitled to report on tragic events the ‘overriding requirement’of clause 5 was that publication must be ‘handled sensitively’at times of grief or shock.
In this case the outline of the body would have been visible to readers, which meant the PCC ‘could well understand why this had caused the complainant and her family such distress”.
‘Tragic stories such as this raise difficult questions for editors, who need to strike the correct balance between publishing information about a death for their readers at the same time as handling publication with due sensitivity,’said PCC director Stephen Abell.
‘This was a difficult case, but the commission ruled that the use of the image crossed a line. The adjudication is an important addition to the PCC’s case law under clause 5 of the Editors’ code, and editors should learn the lesson from it”.
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