Ruling

17799-23 The Family of Steven Carrie v edinburghlive.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      14th September 2023

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 17799-23 The Family of Steven Carrie v edinburghlive.co.uk

 

Summary of Complaint

1. The family of Steven Carrie complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that edinburghlive.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Young West Lothian Dad Collapsed and dies suddenly in family holiday tragedy”, published on 29 March 2023.

2. The article – which appeared online only – reported “a much-loved West Lothian dad tragically died while on holiday with his family in the Peak District” two years prior. It then said: “Steven Carrie was only 34 when he passed away following a cardiac arrest two years ago and now his family have ensured help is available to others by donating a defibrillator to the local community”. The article went on to report “the defibrillator has been installed in sight of the family's former home where Steven lived growing up for 20 years and can be seen from his former bedroom” and “the family has worked with West Lothian Council to install the life-saving device and ensure that it is easy to access should it be needed in an emergency”.

3. The complainants said the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as the headline and text referred to Mr Carrie as a “dad” when he had no children.

4. The complainants said the article under complaint was based on another article, published in a separate publication, but that the tone of the article under complaint had been altered from the original article – they alleged that this had caused “immeasurable harm” to the family. They said that this was the case as the tone of the original article was a “good news story” regarding the installation of the defibrillator. The complainants said this, along with reporting inaccurately Mr Carrie was a father, and publishing the article without contacting Mr Carrie’s family, was insensitive reporting in breach of Clause 4.

5. On 6 April, the day after the publication received the complaint via IPSO, it contacted the complainants to let them know the article had been removed. The publication accepted the article was inaccurate to refer to Mr Carrie as a “dad” and apologised directly to the complainants. It also offered to publish the following standalone correction:

“Steven Carrie – A Correction and apology. An article reporting the tragic death of Steven Carrie, 34, who passed away following a cardiac arrest two years ago, incorrectly referred to him as a 'Dad' in the headline and opening paragraph. We would like to clarify that Mr Carrie did not have any children, and would like to apologise for this error and for any upset caused. This article has since been removed”.

6. The above correction was subsequently published on 2 May. On 26 July, upon being asked whether the correction was linked on the homepage, the publication said it was not able to confirm whether this was the case. It therefore published a link to the correction on its homepage that same day.

7. While the publication expressed regret at the error, and had corrected it, it said that the terms of neither Clause 1 nor Clause 4 required it to contact the family prior to publication. The publication also said reporting Mr Carrie was a father did not engage the terms of Clause 4. It said publication had been handled sensitively and the error was neither deliberate nor malicious.

8. The complainants did not accept the correction as a resolution to their complaint. They believed any remedial action should acknowledge their position that the publication had changed the purpose of the original article, which was to promote the use of defibrillators. The complainants also wished for a private apology for the harm and distress the publication had caused.

Relevant Clause Provisions

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 corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.

iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.

iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

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.

Findings of the Committee

9. The Committee first wished to express its condolences to the family of Mr Carrie.

10. The Editors’ Code makes clear publications must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information. This is particularly important when reporting on deaths – given the circumstances involved, any error can have a significant impact on a person’s loved ones and wider community. In this instance, the publication did not dispute it had inaccurately reported Mr Carrie was a father, and it had not set out what care it had taken prior to publication to ensure that this was not inaccurate. This represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1 (i).

11. Given this was a serious and avoidable error with the clear potential to cause distress to the complainants, a correction and an apology were required to meet the terms of Clause 1 (ii).

12. The day after the publication was made aware of the complaint, the publication wrote to the complainants apologising for its error. It offered to publish a standalone correction that included an apology. It also stated the article had subsequently been removed. The remedial action put the correct position on record – which was that Mr Carrie was not a father – and was offered the day after the publication was referred the complainant by IPSO. This was subsequently published on 2 May. Although the publication was not able to confirm where the correction was originally linked, once it was made aware that a link may not have appeared on the homepage, it published a link to the correction there. In these circumstances, the Committee considered the remedial action to have been sufficiently prompt and prominent. There was no further breach of Clause 1 (ii).

13. The Committee then considered whether Clause 4 had been breached. The complainants said that the tone of the article was markedly different from another article which they had approved of, and that this was insensitive in breach of Clause 4. Although the Committee appreciated that the complainants were unhappy with the article, there is no requirement under Clause 4 for articles to be approved or checked with the loved ones of deceased individuals, or for the tone of articles to be positive. There is, however, an obligation for publication to be handled sensitively – though what this will mean in practice will vary based on the circumstances. The Committee noted the article did not seek to make light of or minimise the circumstances of Mr Carrie’s death, and the tone of the article was warm and respectful. As such, the Committee did not consider the article to be insensitive. There was no breach of Clause 4 on this point.

14. The Committee also considered whether the inaccuracy in the headline had breached Clause 4. The Committee appreciated this error had caused distress to the family of Mr Carrie. However, the terms of Clause 4 stipulate publication should be handled sensitively. While the Committee did not wish to minimise the distress the inaccuracy had caused, it did not find the inaccuracy was insensitive to the extent it had altered the article’s generally respectful and sensitive tone. As such, the Committee did not consider the article to have breached Clause 4 on this point.

15. The Committee finally considered whether not contacting the family of Mr Carrie prior to the publication of the article was a breach of Clause 4. Clause 4 does not stipulate approaches must be made, rather it clarifies if they are made this must be done with sympathy and discretion. There is no obligation under the Clause for publications to contact the next-of-kin of deceased individuals prior to publication. There was no breach of Clause 4 on this point.  

Conclusion(s)

13. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i).

Remedial Action Required

14. The wording offered put the correct position on record, was offered promptly and with due prominence. No further action was required.

 

Date complaint received:  30/03/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  25/08/2023