PCC backs Express on columnist death story

How the Wood and Vale Express reported the death of Andrew Dickson

A complaint made about an article reporting the death of a Sunday and Daily Telegraph journalist with reference to his alleged alcoholism has been rejected by the Press Complaints Commission.

Irene Shubik, a close friend of the journalist Andrew Dickson – who at one time edited the Mandrake diary column – complained on four counts about a story in the London weekly, the Wood and Vale Express.

She claimed that the article, headlined “Tributes to top Telegraph man”, was in breach of Clause 1 of the Editors’ Code of Practice (accuracy) because it suggested that Dickson was an alcoholic and this had been the secondary cause of his death. Shubik had specified to the paper that Dickson had suffered lung cancer and intestinal problems.

The PCC ruled the newspaper’s article was clearly based on the coroner’s report and it was not disputable that alcohol played a part in Dickson’s death. The PCC considered the central issue was in Shubik’s second complaint under Clause 5 (intrusion into grief or shock), which requires newspapers to handle such matters sensitively, both personally and editorially.

Although the PCC sympathised with Shubik on this matter, it concluded the paper had reported the story with sufficient sensitivity.

In coming to this view, it considered the Code allows papers to report on legal proceedings such as inquests.

Shubik also complained the journalist’s approach to her – which focused on whether or not Dickson was an alcoholic – was insensitive, something that was compounded by the editor’s subsequent attempt to contact her. However, given the conflicting versions of the two conversations from the two parties, the Commission considered that there was insufficient evidence to constitute a breach.

Finally, Shubik complained under clauses relating to privacy and misrepresentation.

She believed that what she told the newspaper about Dickson’s alcohol problems was confidential and that the newspaper’s report made it seem as though the statement had come from her rather than a coroner’s report. However, as her statement had been read out in open court, the PCC concluded that there were no breaches of either clauses.

The paper’s editor, Geoff Martin, did not agree to print an apology, standing by his decision to report the story in the way that he did, but offered to write a personal letter to Shubik. He said: “We did try to resolve it as amicably as possible, but Irene felt that it was necessary to go through the full complaints procedure, which she has every right to do.

“Her allegation, I feel, was serious and as a paper we are very conscious of getting facts rights in these areas.”

By Sarah Lagan

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