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Saturday 21 February 2015

Telegraph Breaks Its Own Rules

[Update at end of post]

The Editors’ Code Of Conduct, taken forward from the now-defunct Press Complaints Commission (PCC) to the so-called Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) goes into some detail on the reporting of deaths. Moreover, it goes into detail on the subject of reporting suicides. And, following today’s Telegraph story on the apparent suicide of two News UK employees, many will be scanning those details.
Good to see the owners taking the Telegraph seriously

You can see the code guidelines HERE. The Tel’s article does not fare well when subjected to the kinds of questions shown in “Reporting Suicide” on Pages 48 to 51. For instance, “Were insensitive and unnecessary details published about the death?” In the case of the two News UK employees, there appears to have been no justification for publishing any detail of the deaths - including that they were apparently suicides.

It gets worse: the Editors’ Code stresses the need not to publish anything that might lead to others taking their own lives. The mere suggestion that working in this kind of environment might lead to severe stress - by suggesting that workers are pressured to meet targets - together with also suggesting that suicide and press organisations are in some way linked, may do just that.

And within the Code itself - see Page 92 - we see the all-important Public Interest tests. Just going ahead and saying “two people committed suicide when in the service of News UK” has no public interest whatever. Two office workers taking their own lives cannot in itself justify such a story. There would, though, be a possible defence if it could be seen that News UK was pressuring its staff in an unreasonable manner.

However, and here we encounter a significantly sized however, the Telegraph article, because it is, apart from the fact of the two deaths, complete conjecture, cannot hope to demonstrate anything approaching unreasonable treatment of workers. The only factual information in that area has come from News UK, and describes procedures that see staff talking with supervisors on at least a weekly basis.

So when looking at the Editors’ Code test, “Whenever the public interest is invoked, the Regulator will require editors to demonstrate fully that they reasonably believed that publication, or journalistic activity undertaken with a view to publication, would be in the public interest and how, and with whom, that was established at the time”, the Telegraph is likely to come up short. A long way short.

The attack on the Guardian, pretending that there was a commercial arrangement with Apple which influenced publication, was just cheap, although probably within the Code. The article about News UK appears to be not merely gratuitous, but in breach of the Editors’ Code on as many as three counts. It would, of course, be unique for another paper to complain, but if one of the families does, the Tel may be in deep shit.

They could just pull the article, own up and say sorry. That is, if anyone is on the bridge.

[UPDATE 22 February 1205 hours: as Carl Eve has kindly pointed out, only the coroner can officially pronounce on suicide. And it seems that the inquests on the deaths of the two News UK employees has not yet taken place.

This is important because the Editors' Code guidelines on suicide reporting talk about being "Tougher than the law". The clear conclusion is that calling a death as a suicide should therefore not be considered until there is a coroner's ruling in place.

So that makes a potential fourth case in which the Editors' Code may have been breached. It will be interesting to see the Tel's explanation for that]

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