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When it comes to interviewing patients, should journalists get permission from the hospital's top brass first — even if the source has already agreed? This question was at the heart of a recent Press Complaints Commission (PCC) ruling in the U.K.

When it comes to interviewing patients, should journalists get permission from the hospital's top brass first — even if the source has already agreed? This question was at the heart of a recent Press Complaints Commission (PCC) ruling in the U.K.

Back in February, a patient's parents invited a journalist with the Essex Chronicle to interview their son — who had previously woken from a coma after a beating — in the hospital. The journalist did so, claiming he introduced himself to ward nurses, but not to any top executives at the hospital, or the communications team, as is required under the U.K.'s Editors' Code of Practice.

While the resulting story, "Victim of attacker 'lucky to be alive' after coma ordeal", received no complaints from the family or the subject, the CEO of the hospital filed an official complaint with the PCC. The hospital claimed the reporter did not identify himself to anybody, had no notebook, recorder, camera, or anything else that would signify his profession, and that the subject did not know he had spoken to a journalist.

The newspaper, and the reporter, denied the accusations, saying the journalist believed he did identify himself clearly, carried and used a notebook, and also believe he had his subject's consent.

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The PCC upheld the complaint against the newspaper, writing, in part:

"It is the responsibility of newspapers to demonstrate that they have abided by the terms of the Editors' Code. In the view of the Commission, the reporter could have acted to ensure that there was no uncertainty about his identification, and that the necessary permission had been obtained from a "responsible executive", before entering the unit where the patient was being treated. This could have been achieved, for example, by asking at reception at the beginning of the visit to speak to a relevant executive, or approaching the hospital in advance. Bearing in mind that the patient was in an especially vulnerable condition, the onus was on the reporter to ensure that he was open about his status with the hospital."

Regardless of whether you agree with the decision or not, it does raise some interesting questions, even for Canadian journalists: Should hospitals have any control over patient-journalist conversations if the source, or the source's family, has invited the journalist there? How far does the hospital's duty to protect vulnerable patients extend? What are the ethics of interviewing patients?

Feel free to chime in in the comment section below.