Petula's age caused a stir

The prospect of international singing star Petula Clark arriving in Ipswich, prompted both an article and a mention in James Marston's comment column. This would seem an unlikely area to attract a complaint.

The prospect of international singing star Petula Clark arriving in Ipswich, prompted both an article and a mention in James Marston's comment column.

This would seem an unlikely area to attract a complaint. Nonetheless a reader took exception to James recounting what happened when he asked Ms Clark to reveal her age. Petula had got quite coy at this point and refused to answer.

The reader in question objected to the fact that the comment item centred on Petula's age, her refusal to reveal it and no mention was made of her music.

I am, of course, sure that James Marston's piece was meant to be light hearted and no disrespect was intended. In fact James had researched her age, but chose not to include it in light of her concern.


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Another piece which concentrated more on her career and music was published later in the week.

I have spoken before in this column about the difference in journalism and column writing. The former purports to be a factual account while a column is merely one person's view or opinion. While journalists are subject to the control of their editors, columnists express their own views, and providing they stick to the rules of decency and libel do not come under such editorial scrutiny.

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The fact that James' piece centred on her age does not therefore break any of the rules of journalism. But I must say that this whole episode raises issues about newspapers and their fixation with age.

Too often the age of someone reported on is added as a matter of course. Typically " Mrs Smith, aged 54, won a competition for the best sponge cake", now the relevance Mrs Smith's age is some what dubious. Yet we see this type of reporting time and again. Why?

It is standard policy of the Star's to include ages, to give readers a better picture of the interviewee, and draw a distinction in case there are two people of the same name.

While the Age Discrimination Act does not cover press articles, I find it ironic that it is unlawful to discriminate in employment on the grounds of age, while the press continue to make age a major issue. It is often quoted that readers are interested in such personal details but are we really? In truth any public figure's personal details are normally readily available on the web to anyone truly interested.

So is value actually added to reports by the routine inclusion of references to age? Frankly I doubt it. After all when we watch TV news we do not expect the presenter to start their report "Mr Blogs, aged 34, did something today."

There will be occasions when age is relevant, for example if an elderly or young person is the victim of crime or there is something remarkable in what a person has done relative to their age. Clearly it would be ridiculous to write a piece on the oldest or youngest person to do something without reference to their actual age. But I feel that such instances are few and far between and that too often age is reported irrespective of its relevance. I simply do not believe that when we read a report we immediately think "I wonder how old they are".

In this day and age most people are still very active in their seventies and even their 80s, we are all being encouraged to work longer. Some employers even target more mature workers. So why is it remarkable that some one like Petula Clark is still working?

Even James Marston admits in his column that he found it difficult to justify the question. I am certainly not suggesting that reports of age should be banned by law, but I think it is time that more thought goes into the inclusion of references to age, in news reports.

A recent court report caused a landlord of a rented property to complain, that a photograph showing his property had been published.

The house had been rented by a criminal gang who used it to grow cannabis on an industrial scale. The landlord argued that it was unfair to publish photographs of his property while other properties implicated in the crime had not been shown.

He also faces a large bill for repairs due to the damage caused by the tenants in their criminal activity.

Clearly the landlord is an innocent victim in this case, and while the photographs were obtained and published legally I can understand his concern.

I understand his family intend to reoccupy the property, and if it continues to be featured in articles on drug crime it would reflect on his family. The Star's deputy editor has written to him explaining that the properties were an integral part of the story and that lack of space had prevented publication of the other premises concerned, which is true.

I am satisfied that no breach of The Editors Code has occurred in this case, but I do not believe there is any justification in using these images in the future.

I am pleased to see that the deputy editor has arranged for the images of the houses to be removed from the paper's archive, which will prevent them being reprinted as library pictures in future.

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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