Child's illness reported

29 August 2001

EPC discussed a complaint made by Kaja and Tarmo Lääne concerning articles published in Postimees headlined "Estonian girl was diagnosed brain stem tumor by Finnish doctors" (by Andri Maimets, 15 May 2001) and "Kerdi will recover completely" (by Villu Päärt, 14 June 2001).

According to the complaint the articles contained inaccurate and misleading information concerning their daughter's (Kerdi Lääne) health, which caused panic and agitation among readers. The complainants found especially misleading that cerebral hemorrhage was referred to as brain stem tumor. The journalist had not turned to the parents to clarify the circumstances.

The chief editor of Postimees Urmas Klaas explained to EPC that their information emanated from the letter of the Finnish surgeon professor Hernesniemi to the Estonian Health Insurance Fund. The terms used were apprehended in the same way also by the medical advisor of the Health Insurance Fund as well as the dean of the Faculty of Medicine in the Tartu University. The chief editor deemed the comments of the patient's parents unnecessary as the article was focussed on medical diagnostics.

The chief editor conceded that further examinations did not confirm that the patient had brain stem tumor but just hemorrhage in brain stem. The confusion with the professor Hernesniemi's letter arouse from the different usage of the term 'tumor' by Finnish and Estonian doctors. Finnish doctors use the term for any abnormal formation whereas Estonian doctors give the term much narrower meaning. The chief editor contended that the above-mentioned articles belonged to a series, the readers were constantly kept informed about the new facts.

EPC took the view that Postimees had not breached good journalistic practice.

Taking into consideration that public interest in Kerdi Lääne's illness and condition was initiated by her parents, the continuous interest of the press regarding the topic was justified. In case people provide information concerning their own or their children's state of health to the general public through the press they have to keep in mind that the press will start to treat and disseminate the information regardless of the information holders' judgement and to process the information without consulting them, and they have to accept the possible inconvenience it may cause. That should be taken into account by all individuals who provide the press with information concerning their private life.

EPC also found that the mentioned articles could not cause serious harm to the patient's parents. EPC considered the explanations by the chief editor of Postimees regarding the origin of the factual errors exhaustive. The factual error cannot be regarded as a mistake made by the newspaper and most likely it would have been difficult to avoid it when preparing the article due to the reasons deriving from medical science.

EPC regretted that the patient's parents had to find out about the letter of the Finnish surgeon to the Health Insurance Fund through the newspaper, but EPC is not competent to judge public service ethics.

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