Photograph of grieving pupil was dignified: Quarterly report of Sir Gordon Downey, the Independent readers' representative

IN my last report, I reminded readers of our arrangements for handling complaints. This one gives a few recent examples of complaints received which have provided food for thought. I have no doubt that they will be borne in mind if similar issues arise in future.

Towards the end of last year, the editor received nearly 150 letters commenting adversely on the use of a photograph showing a distressed teenage girl at her school following a tragic road accident involving fellow pupils.

The editor had decided to publish the photograph because it conveyed the tragedy of the accident in a way which would not have been possible with words. The picture, although distressing, was dignified and it was widely used by the press.

In a subsequent adjudication, the Press Complaints Commission concluded that the editor was entitled to use the photograph to illustrate the enormous grief and sorrow experienced, not only at the school but throughout the country. They took into account thanks expressed to the press from the headmaster, a statement from the local education authority that they were unaware of any complaints by pupils, parents or teaching staff and the fact that access had been provided to the school campus for reporters, photographers and TV crews.

I, too, felt that the picture was justified by its dignity, although clearly not everyone would draw the line at the same point. No one, however, would dispute that this is an area which needs to be handled with great sensitivity.

Another very sensitive issue is that of possible anti-semitism, on which there have been two recent complaints. The first referred to a report from Vilnius in which it was said that Jews, among others, were alleged to be running the local 'mafia'. To my mind this was not anti-semitic, although the phrasing could have made it clearer that the allegations were based on unsubstantiated rumour.

The second case was more complex. A thoroughly complimentary profile of a public figure referred to the fact that he was Jewish. The individual concerned had not complained: indeed he might well have wanted his religion acknowledged. But to another reader the reference was gratuitous and condescending. Religion would not, he suggested, have been introduced if the man had been non-Jewish.

In general, I sympathise with this view but the issue is not always straightforward. Where, for example, someone has fled from anti-semitic persecution, it will often be more appropriate to refer to them as Jews than merely as nationals of the country from which they have fled. But, in most other cases I have no doubt that reference to a person's religion should only be made if this is very directly relevant to the story concerned.

Another subject of irritation is that of inaccurate headlines not justified by the accompanying text. There have been a number of examples of bald, apparently factual, headlines which, on further reading, are supported only by conjecture or probability. Thus, 'Lockerbie Libyans for trial' still looks a little premature several months later. Taken together, the headline and text are not misleading but, separately, they tell a different story.

Finally, I have recently had a very valid complaint from a reader in Scotland. He has pointed out that some articles - particularly relating to domestic legislation - fail to make clear whether the provisions or proposals for change apply to Scotland. He also believes newsworthy events in Scotland are under-represented and that, too often, 'Britain' or 'the country' are used to mean England and Wales. I found the latter point difficult to refute when he pointed to 'The Cancer Map of Britain', whose northernmost part was Northumberland.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Arts and Entertainment
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit director Peter Jackson with his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Life and Style
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Analyst / Helpdesk Support Analyst

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is the UK's leading ...

The Jenrick Group: Finance Manager/Management Accountant

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: The Jenrick Group: Finance Manager/Manag...

Recruitment Genius: Manufacturing Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a rare opportunity for ...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'