Courier Censure to Lead to New PCC Guidance

A breaching by the Dundee Courier newspaper of a code of practice operated by the Press Complaints Commission is to result in new guidance for newspapers being drawn up.

It follows the reporting by the newspaper of a sexual assault court case, that heard a man admitting to sexual offences against two girls, both of whom were under the age of 16 when the crimes occurred. Says the PCC, the reporting was “likely to contribute to the identification” of the two girls and that the paper was guilty of breaching three clauses of the Editors' Code of Practice: Clause 3 (privacy), Clause 7 (children in sex cases) and Clause 11 (victims of sexual assault).

Says the PCC: “The report [in January] made reference to the locations where the offences had taken place, including the names of the streets – two of which were the streets on which the victims lived. Their mothers complained (separately) that, because there were relatively few houses on the roads in question and because the report had stated their daughters' ages, both children had been identified to those in their local communities.”

Added the PCC: “The newspaper accepted that its normal practice of only publishing outline details of cases involving sexual offences had not been properly followed. It removed the partial addresses from its online archive and circulated a note to staff reminding them of their obligations under the Code of Practice. In addition, the editor sent letters of apology to each complainant.”

The Commission concluded that “this was a bad mistake…The failure of the newspaper properly to consider the likely consequences of publishing information in the report, especially the references to the girls' partial addresses, was a serious one”.

The PCC's adjudication was published by the newspaper on Friday, in print and online.

Added the PCC: “Given the seriousness of the issue, and the potential for harm to those who might be identified, the Commission has decided to issue new guidance to the industry. This will be published later in the year.”

In a statement, PCC director, Stephen Abell, is quoted, as saying: “The Editors' Code is very clear about the identification of victims of sexual assault. In the vast majority of reports about sexual crimes newspapers take great care to abide by these requirements.

“However, if in doubt, newspapers should always err on the side of caution when considering what details to publish. The Commission is committed to ensuring the highest standards in this area. The PCC seeks always to help vulnerable people in its work, and it is hard to think of an issue more important than the protection of victims of sexual assault. That is why we will shortly be issuing guidance to help prevent any future breaches of the Code from occurring.”