Ruling

01778-21 Evison v examinerlive.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      2nd September 2021

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination, 14 Confidential sources, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock, 5 Reporting suicide, 6 Children

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01778-21 Evison v examinerlive.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. Jessica Evison complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that examinerlive.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock), Clause 5 (Reporting of suicide), Clause 6 (Children), Clause 12 (Discrimination) and Clause 14 (Confidential sources) in an article headlined “Yorkshire farmer shares her heartbreaking story as campaign to raise awareness of suicide in the agricultural industry launches”, published 15 February 2021.

2. The article reported on “a campaign…launched to raise awareness of the "mental health epidemic" in the agricultural industry”. It noted that “133 suicides were registered in [Great Britain] in 2019 for those working in farming and…related trades”. It went on to report that “one of those to have been directly affected is [a named] Yorkshire farmer…whose partner [named in the article] took his own life in September 2019 aged just 19”. It stated that her partner had “had a history of mental health problems but "never had help with it"” and that the partner had said he “was almost ashamed of his mental health”.

3. The complainant, the mother of the man who died, said the article was inaccurate in reporting that her son “died by suicide”. There was still an ongoing investigation into the cause of death and the inquest was yet to be held. Further, she expressed a concern that no steps were taken to check the veracity of the cause of death given to the newspaper by her son’s partner. The complainant also said it was inaccurate to claim that her son “had a history of mental health problems”. Whilst she accepted that he had been diagnosed with depression a short time before his death, he did not have a “long” history of such problems. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 2 and 14 by naming her son; Clause 3 because it led to her family being contacted by members of the public; and Clause 4 because it had caused distress and was lacking compassion. Further she said the article breached Clause 5 as it was inaccurate as to her son’s cause of death; Clause 6 as it related to her child; and Clause 12 as it discriminated against her son, who she said did not have a mental illness, as well as against people who did suffer from mental health problems.

4. The publication did not accept it had breached the Code. It said that its story had been based on a press release by a mental health charity, which presented the case of the complainant’s son and his surviving partner as one of its case studies. It said it had interviewed the named partner and recorded her account of the life and death of the complainant’s son in good faith. It said this constituted due care not to publish inaccurate information with regard to reporting the complainant’s son’s cause of death. In any event, it said that the disputed claim could not be significantly inaccurate where no finding had yet been made by the coroner on this point. Further, it emphasised that the article had not claimed how long the complainant’s son had mental health problems; it only recorded his surviving partner’s ambiguous view that he had “a history” of such problems.

5. Nonetheless, on becoming aware of the complainant’s concerns, the publication removed the complainant’s son’s first name from the article and sent her a private letter of apology. It said it was dismayed when it was told that the inquest was yet to occur. It also offered to remove the online article or amend it to note that no cause of death had yet been determined.

6. The complainant did not accept these actions as a resolution to her complaint.

Relevant Code Provisions

7. Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be correction, promptly and with due prominence, and –where appropriate– an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.

8. Clause 2 (Privacy)

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

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

9. Clause 3 (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; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.    iii)  Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.

10. Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock)

In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. These provisions should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.

11. Clause 5 (Reporting of suicide)

When reporting suicide, to prevent simulative acts care should be taken to avoid excessive detail of the method used, while taking into account the media's right to report legal proceedings.

12. Clause 6 (Children)

i) All pupils should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.

ii) They must not be approached or photographed at school without permission of the school authorities.

iii) Children under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child’s welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.

iv) Children under 16 must not be paid for material involving their welfare, nor parents or guardians for material about their children or wards, unless it is clearly in the child's interest.

v) Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child's private life.

13. Clause 12 (Discrimination)

i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

14. Clause 14 (Confidential sources)

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

Findings of the Committee

15. The Committee first wished to express its sincere condolences to the complainant for her loss, and empathised with the profound distress and heartbreak the family had endured.

16. Whilst the disputed claim was presented as a statement of fact, the context around it was a story that was clearly based on the account of a woman, who was presented by a registered charity as a case study of someone in the farming community who had lost their partner to suicide. The article had been presented as her story, illustrating broader concerns about mental health in the farming community. The story made no reference to an inquest nor implied that there had been an official finding about the cause of death. In this context, the Committee concluded that it had taken adequate care over the accuracy of the claim. There was no breach of Clause 1(i).

17. There was no official cause of death at the time of writing. An inquest was yet to be held. In circumstances where the article had related the woman’s account of her experiences; and it did not imply that there had been an official finding as to the cause of death, the Committee did not identify any significant inaccuracy or misleading statement requiring correction under Clause 1(ii).

18. The complainant had accepted that her son had been diagnosed with depression. However, she said he did not have a “long” history of such problems. The article made no claim as to exactly how long the son had suffered from mental health issues and the disputed claim appeared in the context of the partner’s own personal account of the tragedy. The statement that the complainant’s son had “a history of mental health problems” did not constitute a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information, nor did it give rise to a significant inaccuracy or misleading statement. There was no breach of Clause 1.

19. The Committee acknowledged the upset caused by the article. However, the fact of someone’s death is a matter of public record. Naming the complainant’s son’s first name and noting that he had died did not give rise to a breach of Clause 2.

20. Clause 3 generally relates to the way journalists behave when researching a news story and is meant to protect people from being repeatedly approached by the press against their wishes. Concerns about the behaviour of members of the public, as distinct from concerns which related directly to the content of the article or the conduct of employees of the newspaper, were not a matter for IPSO.

21. The article was a report on the complainant’s son’s mental health and death, as well as the experience of his surviving partner. The Committee acknowledged that the complainant had found the article distressing and strongly disputed the woman’s account of the events surrounding the complainant’s son’s death. Nonetheless, the article did not insult the deceased; it included minimal details about the cause of death and focused on the issue of mental health in farming more broadly. The publication of the article was handled sensitively within the meaning of Clause 4. There was no breach of this Clause.

22. In order to prevent simulative acts, Clause 5 prohibits the inclusion of excessive detail about the method of suicide used in any given case. The article did not mention the specific circumstances of the death. Clause 6 relates to intrusions into a specific child’s time at school, approaches to children and the publication of material relating to their welfare and private life. Its protections extend to children under 16 or under 18 but in full-time education. The complainant’s son was aged 19 at the time of the incident reported on. Clause 12 is designed to protect specific individuals mentioned by the press from discrimination based on their race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or any physical or mental illness or disability. Whilst the son’s mental health was referenced, such references were neither pejorative nor prejudicial. Further, the references to the son’s mental health were genuinely relevant to the story, where the story centred on mental health and suicide in farming. The complainant said that the article breached Clause 14 by naming her son. Clause 14 relates to the identification of confidential sources of information. For these reasons, there was no breach of Clause 5, Clause 6, Clause 12, or Clause 14.

Conclusion

23. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

24. N/A

 

Date complaint received: 180/2/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 12/08/2021