FHM has agreed to issue a public apology for an article that ridiculed two mountaineers killed on Everest.
The dead climbers’ partners, Sue Thompson and Elizabeth Duff, told the Press Complaints Commission the article in the July edition, headlined “Death Mountain”, was inaccurate and intruded into their grief and shock.
It highlighted a series of unsuccessful attempts to climb Everest and was accompanied by pictures of frozen corpses. It mocked the deaths of their partners, Mal Duff and Bruce Herrod, calling the latter a “careless climber” who spent his last moments “flapping around with his feet in the air”.
The complainants claimed the article was inaccurate, misleading, gratuitously distasteful and ridiculed the deaths.
FHM claimed it was intended to highlight that mountain climbing was highly dangerous and to dissuade readers tempted to climb Everest from doing so when ill-prepared. “Spontaneous and sincere” private letters of apology were sent to the complainants and a donation of £500 offered to the Mount Everest Foundation.
FHM offered to publish a correction and an apology but while Sue Thompson accepted the offer, Liz Duff did not, as the magazine had not apologised for an “odious innuendo”.
In its adjudication, the PCC stressed that matters of taste and offensiveness did not fall under the remit of the Editors’ Code of Practice and it could only rule on inaccuracy. It noted that FHM had apologised privately and recognised that the tone of the article was not sympathetic. FHM had also agreed to publish a correction and apologise publicly to the friends and family involved.
The PCC said the wording of the apology was adequate and represented sufficient remedial action. It was therefore satisfied that no further action was required.
Duff welcomed the apology but told Press Gazette it was not sufficient.
“They have been very clever. Their apology focused on accuracy, completely ignoring the real reason for the complaint. I am angry that they can so knowingly hurt people. They will do anything to sell the magazine and don’t care about the effects on anyone who is still alive. They don’t give a damn.”
By Ruth Addicott