IPSO Blog: How the Editors’ Code protects children

Standards Officer Rosemary Douce on new information for parents, guardians and others who may be concerned about reporting which includes children and the specific rules which safeguard children’s welfare.

There is often confusion about what the media can and can’t print when it comes to children. Many people believe that newspapers are not allowed to print any photos of children, for example, but this is not always the case. 

Part of IPSO’s role as regulator is to support the public to understand the rules which newspapers and magazines must follow, and with this in mind, we have recently published some new information which explains what can and cannot be reported when it comes to children in the media. 

What are the rules? 

Because children are more vulnerable than adults, the Editors’ Code of Practice (the set of rules IPSO enforces) protects them more than adults. It makes clear that children’s interests can only be overridden if there is an exceptional reason to do so. The Editors’ Code applies to everyone, and there are some extra specific clauses which protect children and their welfare. 

Clause 6 of the Code protects children’s privacy by making clear that all pupils should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion and Clause 7 says children who are victims of sexual assault should not be named (even if the law says they can be). 

Do journalists need to have consent from a parent or guardian? 

One question we are often asked is whether journalists need to have consent from a parent to speak to a child or teenager. If a journalist is writing an article which could affect a child’s welfare, then children under the age of 16 should not be interviewed or photographed without the consent of a parent or guardian. A child’s welfare includes anything relating to health, personal life or safety, or anything that could lead to significant intrusion into a child’s life. 

If an article doesn’t affect welfare then parents do not need to give consent. For example, a newspaper printed comments from a girl about her school uniform policy which did not affect her wellbeing, so this did not breach the Editors’ Code. A journalist might photograph children as part of a wider public event and parents would not need to give consent for this. 

Can newspapers and magazines publish photos of children? 

When it comes to photos, journalists can print photos of children which don’t show anything that might affect a child’s welfare, for example a photo of a group of children playing in a park, would not affect a child’s private life or wellbeing. 

Unless there is a strong public interest, journalists must make sure they do not publish photos which might intrude into a child’s time at school, include information about the child’s welfare without the agreement of a parent, or intrude into the child’s privacy. 

What about social media? 

Journalists can use information that is openly available in the public domain (i.e. open social media accounts) including photos, videos and comments. But they must think carefully about what that information shows and whether it might show anything which could affect a child’s privacy or welfare. Our information for the public on how journalists use social media explains more about this. 

The new information was developed with our Readers’ Advisory Panel who provide us with a readers’ and citizens’ view of our work. 

You can download the information here.