Woman accuses private hospital

7 June 2000

EPC discussed a complaint made by the private hospital Fertilitas (managing director M. Roosimägi) concerning articles published in Eesti Päevaleht headlined “Infertile woman relies on court” (by Antti Oolo, 24 January 2000) and “How to sue a doctor” (by Anu Jõesaar, 24 January 2000).

The complainant said that the article distorted facts and presented the position of only one party. The complainant also said that the journalist had paid no attention to the opinion of the Expert Commission on Health Care Quality of the Ministry of Social Affairs as regards the case in question.

The chief editor of Eesti Päevaleht replied that the complaint did not show in what way did Eesti Päevaleht disseminate distorted and inaccurate information. Before writing the article Eesti Päevaleht had checked all the patients’ statements, all facts were based on verifiable factual evidence.

EPC found that the article “Infertile woman relies on court” primarily presented the version and attitudes towards the treatment in Fertilitas of an anonymous Merike (33). The other party, the head physician, was disproportionately represented through short comments on the nature of the court dispute, giving no answers regarding Merike’s accusations concerning the treatment.

EPC took the view that by publishing the discussed article, Eesti Päevaleht created a situation, where the strongly accused party was unable to rebut the statements presented in the article initiated by the other party. Fertilitas could have rebutted Merike’s version based on her delicate personal data by also using that data but pursuant to law Fertilitas had no right to do so. Thus, from the very beginning Fertilitas was deprived of the right stipulated under Clause 5.1 and 5.2 of the Code of Ethics. EPC noted that creating such a situation was not in accordance with good journalistic practice.

The statement presented in the article by Antti Oolo “Infertile woman relies on court” and its sub-headline “Treatment of extrauterine pregnancy in private hospital Fertilitas made a woman infertile”, but also in the opinion by Anu Jõesaar, according to which Merike became infertile in Fertilitas, was neither supported by the content of the article nor the Eesti Päevaleht’s further explanations to EPC. Therefore, EPC found that Eesti Päevaleht had breached Clause 4.1 of the Code of Ethics under which news, opinion and speculation should be clearly distinguishable and news material should be based on verifiable factual evidence.

The information in the article is not balanced. No substantial attention has been paid to the decision of the Expert Commission on Health Care Quality of the Ministry of Social Affairs concerning the present case, it is only briefly mentioned and carries a negative connotation. Until the court decides otherwise, the mentioned document is the most competent decision concerning the quality of medical treatment of Merike in Fertilitas and according to the document the treatment in Fertilitas has not caused Merike any disorder. As the article “Infertile woman relies on court” is focused on medical details (not social or some other details), EPC finds that by ignoring the content of the document (and concentrating on the patient’s accusations) Eesti Päevaleht also violates the requirement of true, fair and comprehensive information (Clause 1.2). From the explanation of Eesti Päevaleht it becomes evident that when writing the article Eesti Päevaleht had the decision of the Expert Commission on Health Care Quality of the Ministry of Social Affairs in its possession.

Therefore, EPC found that by publishing the article “Infertile woman relies on court” Eesti Päevaleht breached good journalistic practice.

The article “ How to sue a doctor” is an opinion. Even though the opinion was partly based on an unverified fact that Merike had become infertile in the private hospital, the article was not exclusively built on that fact. EPC found that the article in general did not breach good practice.

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