Belfast’s Sunday World claimed a man and his son died because of drug abuse.
However, the mothers of both of the deceased complained to the UK press regulator the Independent Press Standards Organisation about the article, noting that the father died from pneumonia.
The newspaper’s April 2019 article, “In the Shame of the Father,” claimed Gary Matthews died from a 2019 “heroin binge” and his 16-year-old son Kenan died in 2014 “heavenly linked to drugs.”
iMediaEthics has written to the Sunday World; its parent company Independent News and Media declined to comment. We haven’t seen contact information for the mothers.
Gary Matthews’ mother complained, noting that as of publication of the article, the suspected, and later verified, cause of death was pneumonia. She also told IPSO there weren’t any “illegal drugs in his system at the time of death,” IPSO reported.
Kenan Matthews’ mother said her son died from “a combination of a prescribed medication and the isolated use of a Fentanyl patch to treat severe back pain,” but the story suggested he died from heroin. She also was upset that the story and photo of her son were published five years after his death occurred.
Both women told IPSO that the Sunday World did not contact them before publication. Even worse, the Sunday World used a photo of Kenan Matthews and identified it as his father, Gary. The women said they didn’t OK the use of the photographs but suggested the newspaper must have gotten the them off of social media. They also weren’t happy the Sunday World sent a photographer to Gary Matthews’ funeral and published a photo showing the coffin.
The Sunday World defended its article as based on “confidential sources close to the Matthews family and from within paramilitary organisations,” IPSO reported.
The Sunday World‘s justification for misreporting the cause of death? The paper said it heard from “a number of reliable sources” who alleged Matthews used heroin and the paper believed his death at his age was “more likely linked to, and consistent with drug abuse.” Further, the paper argued it was fair to report on Kenan Matthews’ death as because of “drug misuse” because he hadn’t been prescribed the Fentanyl. The newspaper told IPSO it had notes and recordings of its interviews but wouldn’t share them because of source confidentiality.
And as for why the paper didn’t contact the women before reporting on their sons’ deaths? The Sunday World said it didn’t because in 2018, an uncle in the family told the reporter he would not talk to the World. The women responded that the uncle actually had told the newspaper that it should contact him for inquiries about himself; regardless, it didn’t make sense that the paper wouldn’t contact them for stories about their sons.
The World also defended its funeral photos saying they were taken from “130-150 meters away” and visible to the public, and the social media photos were from a public account.
Despite all of that denial, the Sunday World did offer to publish a clarification “78 days after IPSO began its investigation in print on page eight.” The women said that would resolve their complaint. But then, oddly, the newspaper decided not to publish the clarification because it said the two men did not die from drug abuse which was “a position it could not concede.” That said, the paper still didn’t want to use its sources’ information because of confidentiality and said its journalist had received threats over the article. The paper then offered to publish this clarification on page 3 instead:
“In an article published in the Sunday World on April 28, 2019 and headlined `Mob Brothers Bury Heroin Binge Relative’ it was reported that Gary Matthews Jnr and Kenan Matthews died as a result of drug abuse. The Matthews family have rejected this as completely untrue. We apologise to the Matthews family for any upset caused by the article and acknowledge that we did not contact them prior to publication.”
That revised clarification wasn’t good eough for the women, because it only said they disputed the claims and the newspaper didn’t admit erring. Further, they were unhappy with the Sunday World‘s reliance on its unnamed sources without any evidence.
IPSO noted that it referred the Sunday World to its standards team because the paper didn’t follow IPSO’s deadlines, prolonging the complaint.
In terms of the actual complaints, IPSO ruled the Sunday World broke press guidelines by not taking “care not to publish inaccurate information” and by publishing significant inaccuracies in reporting on Gary Matthews’ death without any evidence.
It was also a breach of guidelines to use the photo of the son as the father, IPSO said. However, IPSO found Sunday World didn’t break guidelines in reporting on Kenan Matthews’ death being related to drugs and IPSO didn’t find it was an invasion of privacy to report on the deaths or publish the photos from the funeral or social media.
IPSO also ruled that the Sunday World failed to offer a correction in a timely manner. By the time the revised clarification was offered, 114 days had passed since IPSO began its investigation of the complaint. The newspaper was also cited for not admitting error.
IPSO ruled that the Sunday World must publish its ruling.