The UK Daily Mail apologized this week after revealing, back in 2008, details of Sian Busby’s cancer. Busby was married to BBC business editor Robert Peston until her death last year.
Longtime journalist Peston recently criticized the Mail‘s 2008 publication of a “diary piece” that said Busby was given “the all-clear from lung cancer” and had spent “a gruelling year battling the illness, during which she had to have part of a lung removed,” the Press Gazette reported.
However, in a November 26 speech at City University in London, Peston noted that the Mail’s claims were not only invasive, but inaccurate. The Guardian has a transcript of his speech, in which Peston discussed the journalism industry and his experience as a journalist. Peston described the effect of the Mail report on his family:
“What knocked us over was that we had gone out of our way to keep out of the public domain that Sian was suffering from such a serious cancer, because we wanted our children to have as normal and untroubled a life as possible, and in particular we didn’t want our youngest boy – who was still at primary school – to be badgered by kids in the playground about his mum who had cancer.”
He also listed some errors in the Mail‘s reporting including that she was “diagnosed six months earlier” not a year and that she never got the “all-clear.”
Peston went on to comment that the Mail didn’t “give us any advance warning” or contact the couple for fact checking. Further, he remarked, “There was no public interest justification for the disclosure of Sian’s serious illness.”
Peston said he didn’t complain at the time. “So the Mail got away with it,” he added. “As it often does.”
In a Nov. 27 statement published on its website, the Mail responded to Peston’s criticism. While the Mail apologized for “the distress clearly caused” by the article, it defended its report as “positive and upbeat” and excused the invasion of privacy by claiming it got all the information from Busby herself. The Mail said:
“The reporter had a friendly conversation with Mrs Peston during which she volunteered information about her forthcoming book and her illness, which he quoted in his story.”
The apology statement was also published on page 2 of the print edition, the Guardian‘s Roy Greenslade noted. Greenslade added that Peston denied the Mail‘s claims that Busby told it about her cancer. Peston said:
“Sian told me she did not talk to the Mail reporter about her cancer. She did talk to him about her new novel, because she was flattered to be asked about it. But she (and I) were flabbergasted when the Mail wrote about her cancer.”