14 April 2005 – When Rev Clive Doubleday complained via the PCC about an article that implicated his charity Smile International in an alleged child trafficking scandal the Sunday Mirror ‘stood by its story’ (For Sale Age 3, 25 Jan 2004) but published a letter exonerating Smile from involvement.
Now Mirror Group Newspapers have paid out £40,000 plus costs and apologised to Sinisa Nadazdin, the 27 year old Christian volunteer whom the paper identified as a trafficker.
MediaWise was first approached for help in clearing Nadazdin’s name the day after the story appeared and he had been interrogated by Montenegrin police. The police found no evidence to support the Mirror’s story, but Nadazdin together with three other locals involved in the story, were subsequently held in custody and charged with defaming the good name of Montenegro by collaborating with British journalist Dominic Hipkins. They still face prison or steep fines if the authorities decide to proceed with the charges which have also been levelled against Hipkins himself.
The Mirror’s inaccurate story and news of the defamation charges soon appeared on websites around the world. Some even accused the UN of involvement in child trafficking since the story wrongly claimed Nadazdin was running a camp for Kosovan refugees near Podgorica.
It has taken 15 months to piece together the circumstances surrounding the way the story was produced, find lawyers willing to act for Nadazdin, and successfully pursue his claim.
Although the story read like a classic piece of undercover journalism, our investigations revealed that all those interviewed knew they were talking to a journalist and thought they were helping him to understand how and why impoverished children are at risk to traffickers. Nadazdin himself had been hired for a pittance to introduce Hipkins to Roma families among whom he did voluntary welfare work.
Nadazdin says the last year has been a “nightmare” for his family, and the relatives of the children whose pictures appeared in the Sunday Mirror with their names and price tags ranging from £1,000 to £2,500.
“I thought that by assisting Hipkins I was helping to protect children,” says Nadazdin, who now hopes the Montenegrin authorities will drop all the defamation charges. “I could not ever have believed that things would turn out in the way they did.”
He now faces the daunting task of trying to put the record straight via the world wide web, which ensured that his story entered media mythology.
Meanwhile it is to be hoped that lessons will be learned all round about the importance of integrity in journalism, especially when dealing with society’s most vulnerable groups, wherever they live.
(Bulletin No 110)