The Scottish Daily Mail has been censured by the Press Complaints Commission for “harassing” the father of a Scottish university student who is reported to have attended the recent demonstrations in London protesting against planned increases in university tuition fees.
Upholding a complaint under Clause 4 (harassment) of the Editors' Code of Practice, the PCC says the paper “persisted in approaching a man who had repeatedly made clear to the newspaper that he did not wish to comment on a story about his son”.
Continues the PCC: “The newspaper published two articles about his son's involvement in the protests, including a photograph of him allegedly attempting to take a police officer's hat. Reporters and photographers representing the newspaper had attended the family home in Scotland four times within 24 hours seeking a comment. On each occasion, the family made clear they did not wish to speak to journalists, and asked them to leave the property. There was one additional approach to the complainant near his home, which led to him contacting the police.”
The PCC, in its adjudication, also quotes the newspaper defending its alleged actions: “The newspaper argued that its enquiries could be justified in the public interest. The complainant's son had been photographed allegedly assaulting a police officer and had as a result been questioned by police and then bailed: it had a duty, therefore, to seek a response to the allegations. The journalists had returned to the property because they had received new information that the complainant's son had been seen entering the home; when asked to leave the property, they did.”
In a statement issued by the PCC, it said: “The Commission accepted that there was a 'limited public interest' in seeking the response of the complainant's son to the allegations against him. However, given that both the complainant and his family had been clear about not wanting to comment publicly about their situation, it judged that the journalists' persistent questioning of someone 'not at the centre of the story, and against whom no allegations of impropriety had been made' constituted a breach of the Code.”
Clause 4 (harassment) of the Code reads: “Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit. 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. Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.”
PCC director, Stephen Abell, is also quoted in the statement, saying: “The harassment clause makes very clear that persistent approaches from journalists once they have been asked to desist are not permitted unless there is a strong overriding public interest, which was not a feature of this case. The Editors' Code covers newsgathering techniques as well as published editorial content; this critical ruling is an important reminder of the sort of behaviour the Commission judges unacceptable under the Code.”