The Press Complaints Commission has upheld its second complaint over intrusion into grief in the space of a week.
The PCC today announced it had upheld a complaint against the Northern Echo over the publication of a photograph of a man being treated by emergency services following a glider crash.
Another complaint that the paper also breached the man’s privacy under Clause 3 of the Editors’ Code of Practice was rejected.
The complaints concerned an article published on the newspaper’s website on 4 July headlined “Lucky escape as glider crashes into field” and a second article the following day that appeared both online and in print headlined “Crash pilot trapped for hour and a half”.
The man had been trapped in the wreckage for over an hour while the emergency services attempted to locate him and the 4 July report – published on the day of the crash – included a photograph of the site in which the tail number of the glider was visible.
The 5 July report showed a photograph of the man being treated by emergency services.
The complainant Leigh Blows, the man’s wife, said her husband had been left with significant injuries and the picture was ‘extremely intrusive”.
She also claimed it had been taken without consent on private land at a time when her husband had been in severe shock and pain.
Her husband, who was not named in the story, had been ‘clearly identifiable’in the photograph through a ‘combination of his facial features, distinctive clothing and the tail number of his glider’she said.
This had led to ‘a number of distressing telephone calls from friends”.
She also complained that the 4 July photo effectively identified her husband on the day of the crash by showing glider’s the tail number.
In its defence the newspaper said that significant local resources had been devoted to the search and rescue process and the photographs had been taken and supplied by a local search and rescue team.
The team was involved in the search for the complainant’s husband and had supplied media outlets with pictures from rescue sites for years, according to the Echo.
Today’s adjudication said: ‘Although it had not been aware of this at the time of publication, it also noted that parts of the operation had been filmed by the BBC and subsequently broadcast (with consent) as part of a programme about the work of the emergency services.
‘The newspaper said that, before publication, it had made enquiries with the police and received a detailed account of the victim’s injuries, from which it had determined that they were serious but not life-threatening.
‘While it understood the complainant’s position that the 5 July photograph had been intrusive, it was satisfied that its publication had not been gratuitous.’
The Blows countered by claiming the film crew had ‘specifically obtained her husband’s consent to record the events’and had ‘taken care to confirm his consent and to ensure that the resulting programme was accurate”.
The PCC did not find a breach of Clause 5 with the 4 July picture but did find a breach on the 5 July photograph, which ‘identified the complainant’s husband and had shown him in a state of shock and upset, receiving medical attention for significant injuries”.
Picture was not ‘sensitive’
‘The commission has previously made clear that timing is an important consideration in complaints made under this clause, because one of its functions is to protect individuals in the period when they are most vulnerable following significant incidents.
“There was a difficult balance to strike here, as the commission had strong regard for the important role of newspapers in informing their readers about significant events in the public interest. This had clearly been the intention of the newspaper, which was reporting on a matter of clear relevance to its readers.
‘Nonetheless, the commission was not persuaded that the publication of a revealing photograph of a person receiving medical treatment, published so soon after the accident without consent, could be said reasonably to be sensitive.”
The adjudication was published on page 4 of today’s Echo and also appears online.