The Press Complaints Commission has ruled that the Sunday Mirror did not breach Clause 4 (Harassment) of the Editors' Code of Practice when seeking comments for publication from the Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans, Andrew Robathan MP.
Posted on: 29 May 2012 06:20
In doing so, it has recommended that the Editors' Code of Practice Committee (or its successor) consider new provisions in the Code to address the potential for danger and alarm posed when journalists pursue the subject of a story in a vehicle.
The complaint centred on an approach to Mr Robathan the day before publication of an article about an MOD study into the health of nuclear test veterans. A reporter and photographer from the newspaper followed Mr Robathan and his family by car as they drove away from their home for over ten miles before he pulled over to confront them. The newspaper said that it had been seeking a personal comment about the study - the subject of a long-running campaign by the newspaper - from Mr Robathan, which it had not been able to obtain through the MOD press office.
Mr Robathan contended that the newspaper's attitude had been "irresponsible", and said that the incident had distressed his family. He would have been prepared to discuss it with the reporter on the telephone, but it was not appropriate to do so on the side of the road.
The Commission made clear its strong view that the decision to follow the complainant and his family had been "ill-advised". It noted however that the activity had occurred on a single occasion and had not been undertaken in an overtly aggressive or dangerous manner. The journalists had been seeking Mr Robathan's comments on a matter of "significant public interest" and had left the area as soon as they were asked to do so. While the Commission warned the newspaper that such practices "had the capacity to cause significant distress", the complaint was not upheld.
PCC Head of Complaints and Pre-publication Service, Charlotte Dewar, commented: "This case raised an important question: when does the decision to follow an individual in a vehicle become harassment under the terms of the Code? Although the Commission did not establish a breach of the Code on this occasion, editors should take note of its warning that ‘any decision to engage in such pursuit should not be taken lightly and could not represent common practice'. We look forward to further consideration by the Code Committee or a successor body of the issues raised by this complaint in due course."
To read the adjudication, please click here.
The Editors' Code of Practice can be read in full here. Clause 4 (Harassment) reads as follows:
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 their 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.
Further information about the Editors' Code of Practice Committee can be found here. The Editors' Code of Practice Committee is responsible for writing the Editors' Code. The Committee has no say in the day-to-day running of the PCC, and membership of the Committee does not overlap with that of the Press Complaints Commission.