Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Press complaints commission finds breach of code in NHS Borders tobacco policy story

I learned today that our complaint to the Press Complaints Commission regarding this piece from the Berwickshire News was resolved when the editor agreed that their story contained a material inaccuracy and agreed to correct it.

The complaint was essentially:
Among other things it discusses a new tobacco policy drawn up by NHS Borders that bans smoking throughout its premises including the grounds of hospitals. This policy is reported in the article to go 'beyond the legal requirements'. It then states, 'Under the Public Health Scotland Regulations 2006, failure to comply with the policy is a criminal offence.' There is nothing in the regulations that allows outdoor smoking to be restricted or gives NHS Borders the power to amend the law. 
i.e by printing something that was inaccurate the newspaper contravened clause 1 of the editors' code of practice. Happily Berwickshire News accepts its mistake:

The answer, essentially:
The newspaper accepts that the word “policy” was inaccurate and could be misleading to readers. It offered to change the word to “law” in a printed correction so that the sentence would read, “Under the Public Health Scotland regulations 2006, failure to comply with the law is a criminal offence”. The newspaper stated that it had not made a deliberate attempt to mislead the public and would happy to make a clarification.
So to be clear: if you are a visitor in the grounds of NHS Borders you will not be breaking the law by smoking. There is a policy against it, but a policy does not carry the force of law.

It is essential that people should not be misled into believing their choices are constrained by laws when this is not actually the case.

I am still waiting for the PCC to confirm that there will be an official record of this case on their website. This happened last time I made a complaint to the PCC.

It looks as though I was just in time. The Press Complaints Commission is to be axed. I wonder what will take its place?


Anonymous said...

That doesn't really clarify a lot if it is still preceded by the previous sentence. The fact that it goes straight from talking about their outdoor smoking policy and then mentions "breaking the law" means it'll still have the same impact to the casual or less discriminating reader.

Still, good work on letting them know that they are being watched.

Belinda said...


I've also asked them to correct the bit about 'harsh penalties' in the paragraph you refer to.

I agree with what you say and perhaps should have made more extensive suggestions, but at least now the article does not say: breaching the policy is against the law.

I've just been advised that this case will be kept on record with the press complaints commission.

Anonymous said...

Hi Belinda,

This is terrific work, well done.

Dave Atherton