by Sarah Bould, last updated on February 22, 2012
A daily editor has questioned how far the Press Complaints Commission should go in preventing the publication of dramatic photographs after a complaint against his newspaper was upheld.
Peter Barron, editor of the Northern Echo, was speaking out about the implications of last week’s ruling which was upheld on the grounds that the newspaper had now shown enough sensitivity in publishing the photo.
Writing in his ‘From the editor’s chair’ column, Peter called the PCC’s ruling ‘controversial and ‘questionable’.
The picture was of a glider pilot being treated for injuries following a crash which had been sent to the paper by the Cleveland Search and Rescue Team who had not sought the injured man’s consent.
The newspaper had checked with the police that the man’s injuries were not life-threatening before making the decision to use the photo.
However his wife argued that it broke Clause Five of the Editor’s Code of Conduct on intrusion into grief and shock, and the PCC upheld her complaint.
Wrote Peter: “It not only has major implications for news organizations reporting breaking news stories, but rescue organizations which rely on public goodwill and charity.
“The Northern Echo had no way of contacting the pilot and, to this day, we have received no direct contact from him or his family, complaining about our actions.
“He was unidentified and not a local man. It is true that the photographer, from the search and rescue team, could have sought his consent, but that was not in our control.”
He adds that the paper could have masked the man’s face and, in the light of the ruling from the PCC, perhaps that is what editors will now have to do.
Questioning where the line is drawn he recalled a story in September when the Echo published pictures of students injured after a double-decker bus crashed into a low bridge in Darlington.
The images were more graphic than the picture of the glider pilot, but attracted neither complaint nor censure.
He adds: “In the light of the Leveson Inquiry into phone hacking, the Press Complaints Commission is under pressure like never before. It has an undeniably difficult job to perform, but the commissioners have months to come to a conclusion, while editors often have just minutes.
“We live in an age of 24-hour news, with mobile phone technology turning millions of people into on-the-spot photographers, and with Twitter, Facebook and YouTube enabling instant publishing.
“Knowing where to draw the line will only become more difficult.”