00455-15 Khalil v Wanstead & Woodford Guardian

Decision: No breach - after investigation

·  Decision of the Complaints Committee 00455-15 Khalil v Wanstead & Woodford Guardian

Summary of complaint 

1. Dr Mahir Khalil complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Wanstead & Woodford Guardian had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply), Clause 3 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Harassment), Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 8 (Hospitals) in an article headlined “Your NHS: Doctor warns patients ‘could be hurt’ if staff shortages not addressed”, published on 27 January 2015. 

2. The article was an interview with the complainant, detailing his experiences of working for the NHS. It was accompanied by a photograph of the complainant outside Queen’s Hospital, Romford. It was part of a series of articles about the experiences of NHS patients, their families, and staff. 

3. The complainant identified what he believed to be a number of inaccuracies in the article, in breach of Clause 1. He said that he had not mentioned in his interview that, while the number of patients had increased, the staff numbers remained the same. He said that he had not said that “I worry there will be mistakes because of this pressure leading to someone being hurt”; rather he had said that if you increase the number of patients you need more doctors. He said that he had not told the reporter that his unit had had to refer patients back to A&E due to bed shortages; instead he had said that the patients had to be transferred to a unit in another hospital. He said that he had not stated that the hospital needed 10% more staff, but said that it is currently using 10% additional agency staff. The complainant was also concerned that the article was a combination of his interview and the reporter’s opinion. 

4. After the article was published on the newspaper’s website, the complainant contacted the newspaper and said that it was inaccurate and requested that it was not published in the print edition. He said that the fact that the newspaper continued to publish it breached Clause 2. He said that his address and age were published without his consent, in breach of Clause 3. He said that the journalist had called him several times and repeatedly requested that his photograph be taken, in breach of Clause 4. The complainant said that the publication of inaccurate information and the inclusion of opinion in his interview breached Clause 5. 

5. The complainant also said that the newspaper should have warned him that he should not speak on the record, as he is an NHS employee and so could have faced disciplinary action. He said that this breached Clause 8 (Hospitals) and Clause 1 (Accuracy). 

6. The newspaper said that the article was an accurate report of the interview with the complainant, and provided the reporter’s shorthand notes to substantiate it. It said that the complainant had consented to an interview with the journalist, and that it is standard practice in local newspapers to publish the partial address of the subjects of articles, in order to localise the story. It said that this information was willingly provided to the journalist, and that the complainant consented to having his photograph taken. The newspaper said that it had explained to the complainant when he had contacted the Editor after online publication of the article, that the next edition of the newspaper had already gone to print and it was not possible to omit the article at that stage. 

Relevant Code Provisions

7. Clause 1 (Accuracy) 

i) The press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures. 

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published. 

iii) The press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact. 

Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) 

A fair opportunity for reply to inaccuracies must be given when reasonably called for. 

Clause 3 (Privacy) 

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications. 

Clause 4 (Harassment) 

i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit. 

ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist. 

Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) 

i) In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings, such as inquests. 

Clause 8 (Hospitals) 

i) Journalists must identify themselves and obtain permission from a responsible executive before entering non-public areas of hospitals or similar institutions to pursue enquiries. 

Clause 14 (Confidential sources) 

Journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information. 

Findings of the Committee

8. The complainant had agreed to be interviewed by the journalist, and had arranged for his photograph to be taken. In these circumstances it was reasonable for the newspaper to believe that he had consented to publication of the article, and that he had consented to being identified. 

9. The newspaper provided contemporaneous notes of the interview with the complainant, which supported the published quotations. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article. While the complainant was concerned that he had been misquoted, the sentiments reported in the article regarding staffing and bed shortages, and sending patients back to A&E, were broadly supported by the reporter’s notes. The Committee did not establish a breach of Clause 1. 

10. The article had appropriately distinguished between the complainant’s quotations and the newspaper’s additional reporting. There was no breach of Clause 1 iii). 

11. Clause 2 refers to a “fair opportunity to rely to inaccuracies”. The complainant had not requested an opportunity to rely, and the continued publication of the article on the newspaper’s website did not raise a breach of Clause 2. 

12. It is common practice for newspapers to publish the partial addresses of subjects of articles, in order to differentiate them from others in the area with the same or similar names. Further, the partial address and age of the complainant were not private information in this case. There was no breach of Clause 3. 

13. The complainant had consented to an interview, and to having his photograph taken at a pre-arranged time. The journalist was entitled to contact the complainant in these circumstances, in order to complete the interview and photo shoot. This contact did not breach Clause 4. 

14. The complainant’s Clause 5 concerns on this occasion did not engage the terms of that Clause; the Committee did not consider it further. 

15. The Committee understood that the complainant believed that his interview should have been off the record. While the complainant had not framed this concern under the terms of Clause 14, the Committee considered that this was the most appropriate clause in these circumstances. While the complainant had argued after publication that the newspaper had a duty of care and should have informed him that he could face disciplinary action by speaking on the record, he had not requested prior to publication that he not be identified, and considering the fact that he had arranged to be photographed by the newspaper’s photographer, there was no breach of Clause 14. 

Conclusions

16. The complaint was not upheld. 

Remedial Action Required

N/A 

Date complaint received: 29/01/2015

Date decision issued: 08/05/2015

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