The Press Complaints Commission has upheld a complaint after three Kent papers reported an uncorroborated, anonymous allegation that the local operatic society’s lead man was an “ex-heroin user”.
Edward Clark complained to the press watchdog that he had made an absolute denial to the Canterbury Times, telling the paper he had never used heroin yet still it still published a story about the claim in April this year.
A version of the story, headed “Storm over ‘drug addict’ accusation”, was also carried by two other papers in the Kent Regional Newspapers group, the Herne Bay Times and the Whitstable Times.
Clark said the articles were “inaccurate and misleading” as publication relied on the unsubstantiated claims of a single anonymous email.
The papers said that deciding to run the article was “a difficult call”. However, the anonymous email contained a serious allegation about the complainant and the matter been investigated by contacting Clark and the chairman of the operatic society for their comments.
The papers said the article gave Clark the opportunity to deny the allegation.
Following the complaint, the newspapers removed an online version of the article; published letters of rebuttal from Clark’s mother and the chairman of the operatic society; and published an apology for any distress caused.
The PCC upheld the complaint on the grounds of accuracy.
In its ruling today, the commission said there had been a ‘clear editorial lapse’and despite publication of Clark’s denial there was no suggestion that the papers had made other efforts to establish whether the claim had any basis in fact.
The publication of the complainant’s denial did not, the commission ruled, absolve the newspapers of their own responsibility for care over the accuracy of the serious claim against him.