By Nathan Sparkes,
Director Of Policy, Hacked Off
MANDY is the mother of Anisha, a young woman who lost her life after being hit by a speeding car in February of this year.
Mandy received the terrible news of her daughter’s death at 2am in the morning. By midday the MailOnline had published a story describing the incident, before her whole family had been informed, under a sensational headline.
Referring to the “shocking moment” a woman had been “flung 20 feet into the air” in front of “horrified onlookers”, the story included CCTV footage, purchased from a local shop, which showed the moments leading up to Anisha being hit.
The family were not consulted before publication and, when the police asked the newspaper not to publish the story, the Mail went ahead and did so anyway.
This coverage was intrusive, exploitative, and deeply unethical. No family should face this kind of treatment at such a distressing time.
It was only after complaints were made by the family that the Mail took this footage down, but the article itself remains accessible.
Anisha’s mother Mandy complained to IPSO under Clause 4 of the Editors’ Code, Intrusion into grief. This clause requires publishers to show sensitivity when covering details of a person’s death.
You might think that in the circumstances there would be a swift and fair outcome.
But you would be wrong.
IPSO’s complaints process is long, drawn-out, and places the burden of investigation on the complainant. It wears complainants down and encourages them to give up. Pages of submissions from newspapers (represented by paid and experienced professionals) must be responded to within tight deadlines, in an exchange which goes on for months.
Dealing with this process is exhausting and challenging for anyone. But expecting complainants who have experienced a bereavement to devote hours of their own time to defend their position in a protracted exchange with the publisher responsible for causing them harm is cruel and unfair. Yet this is the process IPSO insists upon.
And when IPSO finally came to publishing an adjudication in this case – a full seven months after the complaint was made – the complaints-handler found in favour of the Mail.
Across two brief paragraphs setting out IPSO’s findings, seven months in the making, the sham complaints-handler expressed regrets about what had happened yet failed to uphold any aspect of the complaint.
Mandy did some research and found that in fact, IPSO had only upheld one complaint under Clause 4, “Intrusion into grief”, in the last four years.
And if IPSO finds no breach after a case as egregious as this one, then it is difficult to imagine how IPSO could ever again find a breach of Clause 4.
It follows a pattern of intrusive press conduct after a bereavement, with similarities to the cases of Heather Teale, who was harassed by journalists after her daughter Bethany died, and the family of Martyn Hett, whose siblings were informed of his death by journalists on the doorstep before it had been confirmed to his family.
IPSO also failed to sanction newspapers in those cases.
IPSO’s failure to sanction here again sends the clear message that it is acceptable for newspapers to exploit grief and tragedy for headlines.
Until IPSO is replaced by an independent regulator, no one is protected from press abuse.