PCC upholds source confidentiality complaint

Newspaper criticised for revealing source

The Press Complaints Commission has criticised the Newcastle Evening Chronicle for failing to respect the confidentiality of a source. The source of an article made a complaint under the rarely used Clause 14 (Confidential Sources) of the PCC Code, which refers to journalists’ “moral obligation to protect confidential sources”.

The source was a former employee of the Rural Payments Agency, a Government body which had been the subject of criticism in the newspaper. Having read previous articles on the subject, she had emailed the newspaper to inform them of her first-hand experience at the Agency, asking to remain anonymous. However, a reporter from the newspaper forwarded her email in full to the Agency for comment, thereby revealing the source’s details to them.

The newspaper accepted that this was a serious error, and apologised. It said that it had disciplined its reporter, a trainee, and offered to apologise again. The complainant was unhappy with the newspaper’s attempts at resolving the matter, and at how slowly it had reacted to her initial complaint. The PCC welcomed the apology, but considered that this was a “serious and thoughtless error” and an “obvious and unnecessary breach of the Code”. The complaint was therefore upheld.