In an inquiry into press ethics and the culture of the press the inquiry has been very careful to protect the privacy of those whose privacy has been invaded through hacking their phone or blagging personal information but where no story appeared in the media. To do this the Inquiry redacts the names of these individuals – who are not witnesses before the inquiry and have no legal representation present to hear questioning in the Inquiry – from written evidence submitted by witnesses and published on the Inquiry website.
During oral evidence one witness is being asked about a private individual whose medical records have been obtained by a newspaper through blagging. It is not clear that there is any public interest in the obtaining of this information and it is arguable that a breach of data protection legislation has taken place. The witness has been asked to avoid using the name of the private citizen in his evidence. But in trying to explain a complex factual point the witness inadvertently names the private citizen to the discomfort of the judge and the counsel questioning him, and well as to the evident mortification of the witness. The naming of the private citizen can potentially cause embarrassment and speculation about the health of the private citizen.
You are the Editor of a national newspaper which specialises in lecturing other newspapers about their ethical practices. What do you do?
A – refer to the evidence in general terms noting the practices of the newspaper that obtained the medical records, but not naming the private citizen because naming the private individual is potentially an invasion of his or her privacy and may cause speculation about his or her health.
B – Run a story where the information about the manner in which the private information is obtained is presented, but the private citizen is named with a note that his or her name had been redacted from written evidence and inadvertently let slip by a witness in the case to the obvious discomfort of all involved.
C – run a story immediately naming the private citizen on a live-blog and include an enormous picture of the citizen just to make sure no-one was in any doubt who it was, then within minutes of the evidence being given, write a piece referring to the practice which led to the obtaining of the private information of the citizen, contact the private citizen for a quote about his or her medical condition and whether they were angry about this becoming public, and using it as a stick to beat the newspaper that had obtained the private information while maintaining the sanctimonious high ground by providing as much information as you can about the private information (and don’t mention anything about the redaction of the private citizen’s name in written evidence or that the naming of the private citizen was an inadvertent slip that caused discomfort to witness, counsel and judge).
Which is the most ethical approach?
Will you take the same decision Alan Rusbridger and his team did?