The Northampton Chronicle & Echo identified a man who died waiting for care at a hospital. Despite breaking a police embargo by naming the man, the website didn’t break press guidelines, UK press regulator the Independent Press Standards Organisation ruled.
The man’s family complained about the Chronicle‘s March 2018 online articles “Northampton General Hospital worker claims all wards are ‘under immense pressure’” and “Identity of man who died after waiting nine hours at Northampton General Hospital is revealed,” saying they were an invasion of privacy and intruded on the family’s grief. The articles reported on the man’s death after a nine-hour-wait in the emergency room, a leaked e-mail from the hospital’s medical director attributing the death to “emergency department pressures,” and the scheduled inquest (or investigation) into the circumstances of his death.
The family was upset about how detailed the article was in reporting on the man’s death, as well as the fact that the embargo was broken because it meant the family had to deal with media requests before the inquest, according to IPSO. The Chronicle admitted it erred in identifying the man, apologized privately and published a public apology in print.
“Sad death of man, 85, at NGH: an apology: In March this year, the Chronicle & Echo reported on the sad passing of an 85-year-old man at [the hospital] and a leaked email from a medical director blaming pressures on the accident and emergency department for the man’s death. Information was given to the Chronicle & Echo regarding the identity of the man in an advisory note three days ahead of the opening of the inquest. This was given on a ‘for information only, not for publication’ basis. However, the Chronicle & Echo published an online story, identifying the 85-year-old man. The Chronicle & Echo would like to sincerely apologise for the distress that the publication of this article caused to the family. “
Despite the Chronicle‘s admission of breaking the embargo, IPSO ruled it wasn’t an invasion of privacy to report on the death or the hospital pressure. Further, it was OK to name the man because “deaths are a matter of public record,” and the embargo was “non-binding.” iMediaEthics has written to the editor of the Chronicle to ask how it was “non-binding” and what went wrong.
“In this case, the family of the deceased had been made aware of his death a number of days before the article was published,” IPSO said. “The name had been released by police, in the context of an upcoming inquest. The list was marked as “not for publication”. However, failing to respect a non-binding police embargo, in circumstances where the family were aware of their relative’s death, did not represent a failure to handle publication sensitively. The information about the identity of the man had been supplied by the police, and it was appropriate to attribute this information to its source. Doing so was not insensitive or intrusive.”