11867-15 Hetherington v Wales on Sunday

    • Date complaint received

      1st December 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      2 Privacy, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock

Decision of the Complaints Committee 11867-15 Hetherington v Wales on Sunday 

Summary of Complaint 

1.  Judith Hetherington complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Wales on Sunday breached Clause 3 (Privacy) and Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Life without Tim is like being wrapped in a warm towel of sadness”, published on 15 November 2015. 

2.  The article under complaint was an interview with the complainant, in which she discussed the death of her son, the photographer Tim Hetherington, who died while covering the conflict in Libya in 2011. The complainant discussed her feelings about her son’s death, how she heard that her son had died, and her memories of her son. The article reported that the complainant was now a trustee of the Tim Hetherington Trust, and included her comments on her work with the trust. 

3.  The complainant said that she agreed to speak to a journalist from the newspaper on the understanding that the angle of the interview would be her son’s work, his legacy and the work of the trust. She spoke to the journalist on the telephone on Friday 13 November, and said that she agreed to be interviewed on the basis that he would let her agree her quotes, and that he would not publish anything she was unhappy about. She said that this agreement was probably made before the journalist began the interview, and while she did not believe the journalist used the words “copy approval”, he did agree to return to her prior to publication to agree her quotes, and so that she would feel content about the article.  During the interview itself, the complainant said that the journalist asked her personal questions about the circumstances of her son’s death, and her feelings on the matter. While she answered the questions, the complainant said that the journalist had been unable to see her body language, and she had felt unable to ask the journalist to stop. In the days following the interview, the complainant said that she was concerned that the interview would focus on her son’s death, rather than the work of the trust, and she felt that the journalist had intruded on her private grief. 

4.  The complainant said that on Monday 16 November, she read an email the journalist sent on the preceding Friday requesting photographs of her and her son. She replied explaining that she felt uneasy about her discussion of Tim’s death in the interview, and asked to see what the newspaper intended to publish. She said that she then read a further email from the journalist sent on the Saturday night containing the quotes from the interview. She responded by saying that she did not want some of her comments about her son’s death to appear in print, and reminded the journalist that he had said he would agree her quotes with her before publication. The following day, the journalist emailed the complainant explaining that the article had been already been printed that Sunday, that by sending her the quotes, he was not giving her copy approval, but that given she was unhappy about what she said, the newspaper would not publish the interview online. The complainant said that the newspaper failed to honour its agreement that she could agree the quotes in the published interview. 

5.  The newspaper said that there appeared to have been a misunderstanding in relation to whether the newspaper had granted copy approval; an agreement that the complainant could veto publication of quotations from the interview. It said that the journalist sent the complainant a copy of the interview he had prepared as a gesture of goodwill, so that the complainant could see how the interview had come out. It said that the journalist would have been accommodating if there were any specific concerns about the accuracy of the quotes. It said that it was not within the power of the journalist who conducted the interview to offer the complainant copy approval. In addition, it said that newspapers rarely give copy approval for interviews, but where they do, it would be a contractual term as part of a formal agreement. The newspaper said that at the end of the interview, the complainant had asked the journalist to omit one detail from the interview, which he therefore did not include. 

6.  In relation to the interview itself, the newspaper said that the journalist was not made aware that any subject was out-of-bounds, and that the complainant would have been able to say if she was unhappy about a question, or talking about a particular subject, and that the journalist did not receive the impression that the complainant was uncomfortable answering his questions. The newspaper said that at the end of the interview, the complainant acknowledged that she had been more open than she had been previously, and that she was trying to be more open. 

Relevant Code Provisions 

7.  Clause 3 (Privacy) 

i)  Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her 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. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information. 

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.

Findings of the Committee 

8.    The Committee recognised the complainant’s position that while she had expected the interview to focus on the work of the Tim Hetherington Trust, it had  involved questions about the loss of her son, which were very sensitive for her and for which she had not prepared. However, the complainant had not asked for the interview to stop, or said that she was uncomfortable answering the journalist’s questions, and in these circumstances, the journalist would not have had reason to believe that the complainant objected to the manner in which he was conducting the interview. The Committee did not establish that the manner in which the journalist had conducted the interview was insensitive, or represented a failure to respect her privacy. This aspect of the complaint did not raise a breach of Clause 3 or Clause 5. 

9.    The Committee acknowledged that the complainant genuinely believed that the journalist would revert to her prior to publication to discuss the interview with her and let her agree her quotes, and considered that it was a matter of regret if there was a misunderstanding in relation to the journalist providing the complainant with her quotes from the interview. However, it did not establish that the newspaper had failed to honour an agreement with the complainant, and this aspect of the complaint did not raise a breach of Clause 3 or Clause 5.


10.  The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required 

11.  N/A  

Date complaint received: 19/05/2016

Date decision issued: 21/09/2016