The Press Council has considered a complaint about the way in which The Observer (Gladstone) handled a letter to the editor.
The complainant said that when submitting the letter she explicitly requested that her name and address be withheld to avoid possible adverse effects on her employment. She said the publication nevertheless published her name with the letter, thereby causing severe repercussions from her employer of which the letter had been critical.
The publication acknowledged to the Council that publishing her name was a highly regrettable staff error. It said that the letter should not have been published and she should have been contacted to explain its policy of not publishing anonymous letters.
It also said the complainant had been contacted by a senior editor, a sincere oral apology had been made and a written apology had been offered. It said it had taken steps to ensure relevant staff understood its procedures for assessing letters and its requirement for greater consultation with letter writers before publication.
The Council considers that publishing the complainant’s letter with her name was a very serious and damaging breach of privacy. The request to withhold her name was clear, and there was no ground on which failure to do so could be justified as in the public interest. Accordingly, the complaint is upheld.
The Council welcomes the publication’s apology to the complainant. It also welcomes the steps which the publication says have been taken to avoid similar mistakes in future. In the absence of these responses, a formal censure might well have been considered necessary in light of the gravity of the mistake and its predictable consequences.
Relevant Council Standards (not required for publication):
This adjudication applies the following General Principles of the Council:
“General Principle 5: “Publications must take reasonable steps to avoid intruding on a person’s reasonable expectations of privacy, unless doing so is sufficiently justified in the public interest.”