Does OK! image of dying Jacko breach PCC code?

In Debate on June 30, 2009 at 2:19 pm

OK magazine is reported to have paid $500,000 to purchase an image of Michael Jackson apparently taken whilst he was in a coma on the way to the hospital where he was to be pronounced dead. Or rather OK magazine certainly hope this is the case or else there is a flaw in its exclusive ‘last ever’ picture.

The Daily Express – part of the same stable as the OK magazine – published the image in the masthead of its newspaper yesterday in order to sell copies of the magazine. Sky News pictured the Daily Express frontpage but had blanked out the image from OK magazine. Sky has not responded to requests for clarification of why this was done.

Sky News is regulated by Ofcom, although its website is not. The broadcasting code states:

8.16 Broadcasters should not take or broadcast footage or audio of people caught up in emergencies, victims of accidents or those suffering a personal tragedy, even in a public place, where that results in an infringement of privacy, unless it is warranted or the people concerned have given consent.

Northern and Shell, the owners, come under the auspices of the Press Complaints Commission – although the publisher does not contribute financially to the PCC. The PCC clause on privacy states:

“Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications. Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual’s private life without consent” – with an exception for the public interest.

Two further clauses of the code may also be relevant:

5.1 In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings, such as inquests.

8. i Journalists must identify themselves and obtain permission from a responsible executive before entering non-public areas of hospitals or similar institutions to pursue enquiries.

ii The restrictions on intruding into privacy are particularly relevant to enquiries about individuals in hospitals or similar institutions.

The relevant sections of the public interest definition are:

i) Detecting or exposing crime or serious impropriety.
ii) Protecting public health and safety.
iii) Preventing the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.

The publication of the photograph does not meet any of these requirements.

2. There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.

Which would be an argument the editor would need to put to the PCC.

4. The PCC will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain, or will become so.

This is unlikely to be relevant, given the sums of money OK magazine paid for the image.

There is not a clear case against OK magazine for publishing the photograph. But there are a number of questions that deserve investigation:

  • Where was the photograph taken? Was Michael Jackson in a public place?
  • Was the photograph taken in a hospital and in which case, by what means did the photographer gain entry?
  • Did a member of Michael Jackson’s family consent to use of the photograph?
  • Did OK magazine consult the PCC prior to publication?
  • If the photograph is in the public interest, on what grounds does the editor justify the photograph?
  1. Coroner
    Beer drunk at a wake.

    Lying in state
    When the undertaker hasn’t had a chance to tidy up the corpse.

    Laying out the body
    Having a fight with the corpse because you’ve drunk too much coroner.

    Rogueish corpse that eyes up young ladies with bounderish intent.

    Place where bodies are burned. It helps to be dead first.

    What smoke comes out of at the crematorium.

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