The PCC has upheld a complaint against the Brent and Kilburn Times after one of its journalists wrote on Facebook that they intended to make the life of a local councillor “a misery”.
Councillor Jim Moher complained to the PCC under Clause 4 (harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, describing the posts as "sheer venom" and "shocking".
According to the PCC judgment, Moher had contacted the news editor while she was on bereavement leave, telling her he was disappointed that the newspaper had not published a number of his recent letters to the editor.
Regarding this as inappropriate, she expressed her views in several posts on Facebook, including one that said: "I plan to make his life a misery as much as possible."
The posts were ‘liked’ by 54 people and attracted 43 comments by users.
The Times argued the comments did not constitute intimidation and harassment because they were made on a personal Facebook account and could only be seen by a limited number of friends. It said the news editor was on bereavement leave when she received the call and found it upsetting.
But the PCC ruled that the comments “had contained abusive language, personal insults and an implied threat of violence – albeit not one that was intended to be taken seriously”.
It also noted that the posts were available to 250 Facebook friends and added: “While acknowledging that the comments had been published at a difficult time for the news editor personally, the Commission had no hesitation in finding that this constituted intimidation within the meaning of Clause 4 and a serious failure to uphold the highest professional standards required by the preamble to the Code.”
Separate complaints under Clause 1 (accuracy) and Clause 2 (opportunity to reply) were not upheld.
Charlotte Dewar, Director of Complaints and Pre-publication Services at the PCC, said: "This ruling by the Commission demonstrates that the terms of Clause 4 apply to all professional conduct by journalists, and that there is not always a clear line between the personal and professional. Journalists must take care when discussing professional relationships, including on social media."
Following the ruling, an Archant spokesman said: "Archant fully accepts the adjudication of the Press Complaints Commission in upholding a complaint against the Brent & Kilburn Times, under clause 4 (Harassment) of the Editors' Code, relating to postings made by member of staff on her Facebook page.
"Following the ruling, Archant is reviewing and re-issuing its existing social media guidelines, to ensure all editorial staff are reminded of their obligations, both under the Editors' Code and the company's policies.
"All Archant editorial staff have clauses written into their contracts of employment making it clear they must adhere to the Editors' Code at all times."