A story about the now teenage survivors of the Dunblane Massacre, that appeared in the Scottish Sunday Express earlier this year, has been severely rebuked by the Press Complaints Commission.
Yesterday, the paper carried, on most of page 12, the PCC adjudication which, among things, talked of “a serious error of judgement on the part of the newspaper”.
In March, the paper condemned the now teenage survivors of the massacre for internet boasts about alcoholic binges and fights. Thirteen years ago, a Thomas Hamilton shot dead 16 children at Dunblane Primary School and their teacher. The paper’s assertion was that the internet boasts ‘shamed’ the memory of the Dunblane dead.
Immediately, the PCC received over 30 complaints about the article (here) and there was a huge backlash played out on the internet, with one online petition receiving 11,000 signatures registering “widespread disgust”. Said the petition text: “The article – whose groundless message of outrage appeared to be focussed on the normal teenage behaviour of these young people – represented a gross intrusion into their privacy.”
Two weeks after publication, editor, Derek Lambie, apologised, devoting half of his title’s page five to an article, headlined ‘Dunblane: We’re Sorry’ (read it here).
The PCC upheld a complaint that the Scottish Sunday Express had intruded into the private lives of the teenagers, thus breaching Clause Three (privacy) the PCC’s Editors’ Code of Practice.
It added: “Although the editor had taken steps to resolve the complaint and rightly published an apology, the breach of the Code was so serious that no apology could remedy it.”
PS The PCC issued the following media release at 10.45am today:
“The Scottish Sunday Express has been criticised by the Press Complaints Commission for intruding into the private lives of teenagers who survived the Dunblane massacre.
“On 8 March the newspaper published an article headlined, 'Anniversary Shame of Dunblane Survivors', which claimed that the behaviour of some of those who survived the Dunblane shooting in 1996 – and who were now turning 18 – 'shamed' the memory of those who died. This claim was based on pictures and other information which the newspaper had obtained from social networking websites and which, it said, showed the teenagers as 'foul-mouthed' youths who 'boast about sex, brawls and drink-fuelled antics'. The parents of two of those named in the piece said it was intrusive of the newspaper to have identifed their children as Dunblane survivors and to have published information about their private lives, including pictures.
“The Scottish Sunday Express acknowledged that the tone of the article had been ill-judged and published an apology. It did point out, however, that the identities of the survivors had been published previously and that the information about them had been obtained from publicly-accessible websites.
“The Commission did not accept that this argument justified what was a serious intrusion and the apology, while appropriate, was not a sufficient remedy to breaching the Code of Practice. It was clear that the boys involved in this case were not public figures in any meaningful sense and had done nothing to warrant media scrutiny since being caught up in a newsworthy event thirteeen years ago.
“As a result, even though the images and information were available freely online, 'the way they were used – when there was no particular reason for the boys to be in the news – represented a fundamental failure to respect their private lives.' The Commission concluded that 'publication represented a serious error of judgement'.
“To see the full ruling, which sets out some of the Commission's thinking on the use by newspapers of material taken from social networking websites, click here.
“The ruling was published by the newspaper yesterday, Sunday 5 July.”
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