441/2020 - A Daughter and the Sunday World

By admin
Friday, 31st July 2020
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The Press Ombudsman has upheld a complaint that the Sunday World breached Principle 5 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.

The Sunday World published a report on international drug related crime. The report included some background material on an Irishman who had been murdered some years previously. The report was accompanied by two photographs of the murdered man, one a pixilated image of his body at the crime scene and another of his face.

The daughter of the murdered man wrote to the Sunday World pointing out that after the publication of a photograph of her father’s body at the time of his murder the newspaper had given her an assurance that the image would not be published again. She attached a copy of a letter from the then editor of the Sunday World which concluded “… we have deleted the photograph from our digital sites and also Facebook … we can guarantee that it will never be used again”. The daughter said that the republication of the photograph some years later, given the assurance that it would not be published again, breached Principle 5 of the Code of Practice.

The editor of the Sunday World wrote to the daughter apologising and saying that the photograph of her father “should not have been published in the Sunday World”. He explained that the previous editor had retired and there was “a communications breakdown regarding the commitment made to you”.

The daughter made a formal complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman stating that the family felt the response of the Sunday World was inadequate “as it is the second time this image of our father’s lifeless body has been used by this newspaper”.  She said that the image remained on the journalist’s twitter page.  In response the editor repeated his apology to the complainant for the error and offered to publish an apology to her and her family.  He also said that the picture had been deleted from its library and had been removed from the journalist’s twitter account.  The complainant remained dissatisfied at the editor’s response.

As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.

Principle 5.3 of the Code of Practice states

5.3 Sympathy and discretion must be shown at all times in seeking information in situations of personal grief or shock. In publishing such information, the feelings of grieving families should be taken into account.

Given that the Sunday World had given a guarantee not to publish the image some years previously the re-use of the image is a clear breach of Principle 5. I accept that there may have been a communication breakdown regarding the commitment made to the complainant about the photograph. However, it is necessary for newspapers to put in place measures to ensure that guarantees made will be honoured. It is reassuring that the editor of the Sunday World has informed this office that the image has now been deleted from its library.

6 July 2020

Note: The complainant requested that the decision be reported in a manner which does not identify her