by Alice Watkins
Salacious copy may be good for circulations. But any responsible journalist knows to approach sensitive stories carefully.
A recent story in the Isle of Wight County Press provides us with an important reminder of the potentially devastating consequences of publishers which have failed to handle a sensitive story with care.
The case also serves as a reminder that the industry-controlled press complaints handler, IPSO, remains unfit for purpose.
In September 2020, The Isle of Wight County Press published a series of extraordinary claims based on an interview with a woman. The article was an account of a woman described as a “survivor of horrendous domestic abuse” – a serious allegation, which if credible and true, the newspaper would have been right to cover.
The article explained that the woman had told the newspaper that her husband was an abuser and had told her story through a “chilling poem.”
But the newspaper failed to confirm whether the allegations had any credibility.
In reality, most of the allegations had previously been investigated by police, who made the decision to take no further action. Indeed, a custody case ruled that the couple’s children could be safely returned to him.
The newspaper’s failings, in this instance, led to a significant and distressing intrusion into the lives of the man and the children of the couple.
The Editors’ Code – for all its flaws – does include protections for children, which should ensure that journalists avoid intrusion into their lives.
But by the time IPSO acted, much of the damage was likely already done. Because despite many of the details being relatively straightforward, it took the sham regulator nine months to reach its decision.
That will have meant nine months without justice for the family affected by the reporting.
And in that time, further distress is more than likely to have been caused, with any sanction likely to have very little deterring effect to minimise future breaches.
Until IPSO is reformed or replaced by an independent regulator, newspaper wrongdoing will go on.
A Man v Isle of Wight County Press