UK Magazine Pays Murderer's Sister for Interview, PCC says not OK

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UK magazine That’s Life paid a convicted murderer’s sister for an interview about her imprisoned brother.

That’s Life is a weekly Bauer Publishing magazine for women.

The magazine’s January interview with Louise Hodgson described how in 2011, her brother Christopher Hodgson murdered their stepfather, Steven McIntyre, according to the UK Press Complaints Commission. She and her mother were both apparently at the scene or nearby when Hodgson, who was 19 at the time, stabbed McIntyre to death, according to The Northern Echo, which reported:

“A jury at Newcastle Crown Court was told Hodgson barged into the lounge of his mother’s home in Austen Place, Stanley, County Durham – despite repeated pleas from his mother Lisa Walsh and sister Louise Hodgson to leave.”

Last year, Hodgson was sentenced to life in prison.

McIntyre’s sister, Treena McIntyre, complained to the PCC about the interview in That’s Life because the payment amounted to making money off a crime, the PCC’s report explained.  She also complained that the article was “inappropriately sympathetic.” The PCC has a tenet in its Editor’s Code prohibiting the media from paying criminals or their families for interviews. That clause reads, in part:

“i) Payment or offers of payment for stories, pictures or information, which seek to exploit a particular crime or to glorify or glamorise crime in general, must not be made directly or via agents to convicted or confessed criminals or to their associates – who may include family, friends and colleagues.”

As an exception, the clause tells journalists sometimes the payment could be OK if the story was in the public interest, but that’s not relevant since That’s Life didn’t invoke the public interest defense.  The PCC’s Charlotte Dewar noted in the PCC’s press release on McIntyre’s complaint that it’s “relatively rare” that the PCC gets complaints about payments to criminals. When asked for statistics about the number of complaints under that clause, the PCC’s Jonathan Collett told iMediaEthics by email that it doesn’t “publish such data,” but pointed to the PCC’s case listing on its website.

There are 41 results for news reports or cases under a search for the clause in question.

It would have been fine to interview Louise Hodgson about her brother’s murder, but paying her was crossing the line, according to the PCC.

That’s Life denied that it broke the code, arguing that Louise Hodgson was a “victim” and not an “associate,” but the PCC didn’t accept that justification and concluded that because of the payment, she “directly benefitted” from McIntyre’s murder.

Separately, the PCC noted that it dismissed McIntyre’s complaint over “intrusion into grief or shock” because the PCC didn’t find the article to be “gratutious or out of proportion.”

Because of the PCC’s ruling, That’s Life had to publish the PCC’s “adjudication in full and with due prominence,” which is already has, the PCC’s Jonathan Collett told iMediaEthics by email.

iMediaEthics has written to Bauer Publishing asking how much Hodgson’s sister was paid, why That’s Life wrote the piece, for a copy of the article to review and if it will be publishing the PCC’s ruling. We’ll update with any responses.

Check out all of iMediaEthics’ reports on checkbook journalism.

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UK Magazine Pays Murderer’s Sister for Interview, PCC says not OK

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