Memories can vary greatly

AS the Star's independent ombudsman I am occasionally faced with a situation where two people's recollections of events vary greatly. It is surprisingly common for honest and trustworthy people to come away from a conversation with completely different views on the outcome.

AS an Ombudsman I am occasionally faced with a situation where two people's recollections of events vary greatly.

It is surprisingly common for honest and trustworthy people to come away from a conversation with

completely different views on the outcome. In the absence of independent witnesses, all that an ombudsman can do in such cases is to allow the parties to agree to differ, and concentrate on the principles of the issue at stake.

Just such a case arose over the publication of a photograph of the mother of Luigi Mills who tragically lost his life in May, aged only four weeks. A reporter from The Star obtained a photograph from a friend who, it is claimed, promised to get the subject's permission before publishing.

On the other hand the reporter's recollection is that he said he would "endeavour" to get permission but at no time did he promise to do so. He also contends that he tried to contact the subject unsuccessfully, but had left an answer message which explained that a photograph had been obtained and that it was intended to publish it and inviting them to contact him.

As no contact had been made by the time of going to press the following morning, the photograph was included in the article.

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In the end I have no reason to doubt either account, it is a case where the parties are going to have to agree to differ on what was actually said at the time.

If I was to come down on one side or the other, I am sure that the other party would never accept that their interpretation of events was wrong. So I will deal with the general principles involved.

Basically a newspaper can publish any photograph that it legally obtains, with or without the permission of the subject.

There are limits set on what can be published, but none of these were contravened in this case. Nonetheless if a photograph is obtained subject to permission being granted, then a journalist has a moral obligation to obtain such permission, if trust and confidence is to be maintained in the press.

I stress that I am talking generally, as there is no way of unravelling the different accounts of the conversation that took place at the time the photograph was obtained.

I think that some consolation can be taken by those who find their image on the front page of the paper. In my previous career I was often the subject of high profile press reports, with my photograph

appearing countless times in the local press. Yet I cannot recall a single occasion of being recognised from a press report, by some one who didn't already know me.

A photograph of a house taken by a Star photographer was the cause of a complaint.

The story in question regarded the stealing of mail bags left by Royal Mail at a "safe drop" point.

The drop point in question was a private dwelling in Anita Road East. The occupant, who is an employee of Royal Mail, complained that the photograph had been published without his

permission and had given shown detail of his property.

In my view the fact that Royal Mail were dropping mail in apparently insecure locations is clearly a matter of public interest and so the article is perfectly justified.

The photograph was taken from the road not private property, and was therefore obtained legally and it was not necessary to gain the permission of the occupier.

On this occasion no breach of the Editors Code has taken place.

However, although the full address of the dropping point was not included in the article, it was visible on the photograph. It is the policy of the Star, not to identify the full address in articles under normal circumstances.

I feel therefore that it would have been better to obscure the number on the photograph before publication.

I think we all have sympathy for victims of crime when they get thrust into the spotlight.

I have discussed before in this column the importance of justice being seen to be done, and the press's part in that process.

Only in dictatorships, is justice normally dispensed behind closed doors.

Unfortunately the recent case of a phone pest who bombarded the receptionists of a local hotel with abusive phone calls, resulted in one of them being named in court.

Of course once this has happened, their identity comes into the public domain and is likely to be reported in the press.

Not surprisingly the woman in question complained that she had been identified in such a sensitive case. I have sympathy in her plight - sometimes it seems that the legal system puts victims of crime through unnecessary anguish. I am sure that this can be a disincentive to victims in giving evidence.

I am not arguing that cases of this nature should not be reported on. It is important that phone pests recognise that they face jail if they persist.

But at the same time I believe that victims should have a right to expect better treatment from the legal system. It is time that The Lord Chancellor took a new look at the rules surrounding victims of crime, particularly when someone is so personally involved in any form of abuse.

While The Star did not break the code of conduct, and basically did what most newspapers would do in such circumstances, I am pleased that a letter expressing regret for any upset caused was sent to the victim.

On a lighter note, a reader complained that her enjoyment of the TV programme American Idol had been compromised by the result being published before the show was broadcast in the UK.

The report was filed by the national press agency The Press Association.

So I assume that many people all over the country found out about the result this way. A letter of

apology was sent to the reader, in recognition that her enjoyment of the show had been spoiled.

The unfortunate mis-typing of the word 'shot' in a report of a Kesgrave reunion, did change the sense of the story somewhat. I am sure I do not need to amplify further what the mistake was!

That is all for this month, but as always if you are dissatisfied by the way the editorial staff have dealt with a complaint, you can contact me and I will investigate and take it forward on your behalf.

I can be contacted in writing at The Star or by email at ombudsman@eveningstar.co.uk.

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