UK newspaper The Kentish Gazette provided enough information about a sexual assault victim that readers could identify her. The newspaper’s article also implied that its reporter interviewed the victim even though this did not happen, and it published a quote that the victim says is fake, the Press Complaints Commission decided.
The woman, a victim of sexual assault by celebrity publicist Max Clifford, who also testified in his trial, complained to the PCC about the Kentish Gazette‘s April 29, 2014 article.
Th newspaper has unpublished the article from its website and apologized to the woman for including the quote she disputed. The PCC said the apology wasn’t enough of a “remedy” for the breach because it was such an “extremely distressing and intimate” topic so the PCC ruled against the Kentish Gazette.
As required, the Kentish Gazette published the PCC ruling on its website. The newspaper’s editor Leo Whitlock declined to comment to iMediaEthics about the ruling but provided a copy of the paper’s print publication of the ruling on page 9.
The PCC also ruled that the Kentish Gazette did essentially identify the woman so it also ruled against the paper for breaking guidelines related to victims of sexual assault.
The article included information about the woman’s testimony as well as several personal details she said made it possible for her friends and acquaintances to identify her.
- “her former profession”
- her age when she was assaulted
- her age now
- the “geographical area” in which she lives
This is a case of what’s known as “jigsaw identification.” That is, when enough information is provided so that people can identify someone, even if their name isn’t reported. The woman acknowledged other outlets had published some of the information about her but the Kentish Gazette was the first outlet to include “all the information together in one place” as well as the first publication to include how old she is now and where she lives, the PCC said.
The newspaper denied that it published enough information to identify her, saying the only thing that was really new in the article was where she lived and that they intentionally chose an “appropriately vague” description: an area “home to more than 150,000 people,” the PCC wrote.
Woman says she wasn’t interviewed and the newspaper made up a quote
The Kentish Gazette article quoted the woman as saying
“I have already stuck my head above the parapet. It’s been an ordeal and I’m just relieved he has been convicted and it’s over”.
The victim had two complaints about those two sentences.
She confirmed she said “I have already stuck my head above the parapet” when the newspaper’s reporter showed up at her front door. But she said she wasn’t giving that comment as her statement to the newspaper and was actually telling the reporter to go away.
The newspaper claimed that it thought the comment was on the record. The PCC reported:
“The newspaper said that the complainant had initially said she did not want to make a statement but had then briefly discussed the case. The reporter was adamant that he had persuaded the complainant to speak on the record, but unfortunately had not taken a note of the conversation.”
The PCC ruled that it couldn’t settle that matter of whether the woman intended to be quoted since it was a he said-she said problem with no evidence to support either side.
She also accused the Kentish Gazette of making up the quote, “It’s been an ordeal and I’m just relieved he has been convicted and it’s over.” She said the Kentish Gazette reporter told her “it must have been an ordeal” and she said “you have no idea.”
The Kentish Gazette denied it faked that quote but since it had no notes to back up the claim, the PCC ruled against the newspaper.
Last month, the PCC ruled that the UK Sun harassed a sexual assault victim of Max Clifford’s. The PCC couldn’t confirm for iMediaEthics if it was the same victim who complained about the Kentish Gazette and Sun given privacy and sensitivity concerns.In June, the Daily Mirror apologized for wrongly reporting that one of Clifford’s victims, who was a teenager at the time of the assault, had a “sexual relationship” that was “consensual” with Clifford.
As iMediaEthics has previously reported, rape and assault victims — no matter their age — are not consenting and it is wrong to say or suggest they had a relationship with, had sex with or engaged in sex with their attackers.