When a newspaper is not at fault

Last week the Press Complaints Commission rejected a complaint by Connie Booth against the Camden New Journal and in doing so made an important clarification about the scope of Clause 11 of the old Code of Practice, dealing with misrepresentation. (Covered in the new Code’s Clause 10, clandestine devices and subterfuge.) The actress, who co-wrote and starred in Fawlty Towers, qualified as a psychotherapist in 2000. She had helped set up a support group for single mothers and agreed to an interview with the Camden New Journal.

Booth complained that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (accuracy) and contained material which had been obtained in breach of Clause 11 (misrepresentation). The PCC rejected the complaint on both counts, but it is the adjudication on the misrepresentation complaint that is of wider interest.

Booth said that when she contacted the newspaper, it was to enquire about advertising for the group. The paper suggested a feature instead, to which Booth agreed, but recalled that she stipulated that no photograph of her was to be used.

When the article appeared, four photographs of her had been used and the piece focused on her life and acting career as well as the group itself.

Booth could not recall any discussion about her previous career during the interview and therefore considered that the article had been obtained through misrepresentation.

The Camden New Journal argued that when the interview had been set up, it said that it would be very difficult not to mention Booth’s past career and Booth had agreed that her former career could help in attracting publicity for the group.

The newspaper said that the issue of photography was not mentioned until the actual interview was taking place, when it asked whether it would be possible to take a recent photograph and Booth declined.

The newspaper illustrated the piece from library sources. The article made it clear that Booth did not want to talk about her past career or have her photograph taken.

The PCC conceded that while it was difficult to establish precisely what had been agreed, it was clear that Booth had been happy to give an interview about her current career. The dispute was therefore essentially one of copy approval and clarified that Clause 11 was not intended to be used for the resolution of such disputes.

It confirmed that Clause 11 was principally designed to prevent journalists from misrepresenting themselves in order to covertly obtain information that would not otherwise be available.

The PCC confirmed that the decision to include publicly available material about Booth’s former career was a matter of editorial discretion.

Booth had consented to be interviewed by the newspaper in order to promote her work and the PCC considered that the manner in which the newspaper then presented that interview did not raise a breach of Clause 11 of the Code.

Anna Norman is a specialist media lawyer at media law firm Wiggin & Co

Anna Norman

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