Decision of the Complaints Committee – 00528-21 McDade v The Scottish Sun
Summary of Complaint
1. Kathleen McDade complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Scottish Sun breached Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief and shock) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “This is real... please take mum's death as a warning”, published on 19 January 2021.
2. The article reported on a video of a woman whose mother had died a day after testing positive for Covid-19. The article contained several photos, including a screen grab from the video of the named woman crying, and pictures of her mother holding a baby whose face had been pixelated. The photo had an overlay of a speech bubble which read “my son will grow up without a gran”.
3. The article also appeared online under the headline “Heartbroken daughter of mum who died day after testing positive for Covid” in substantially the same format. The photograph of the baby had been blurred out in this version.
4. The complainant, the woman whose video featured in the article, said the article breached Clause 6. She said that she had made and uploaded two videos to Facebook. In the first which the article reported on, she spoke directly about her mother and Covid-19. She had uploaded this alongside the following comment: “If folk want to share this they’re more than welcome. I want as many people to listen as possible”, and it had 20,000 views at the time of publication. She said that the second video, which contained the photos of her child published in the article, was publicly viewable but she had not explicitly asked it to be shared. She said she had made this public so that a family member would also be able to share it on her wall. The complainant said that a story about the death of her child’s grandmother was an issue that related to her child’s welfare and therefore needed the consent of a custodial parent or guardian for the images of her child to be posted. She said that she had not given this consent to the newspaper.
5. The complainant also said the article intruded into her grief and shock in breach of Clause 4. The complainant had been contacted via Facebook message by the newspaper asking permission to use images from the video and to speak to her. The complainant did not reply until after the article had been published, and therefore had not given consent for the article to be published. She said that the journalist had told her they would normally speak in person but was unable to as the complainant was self-isolating at the time.
6. The publication apologised for any distress caused to the complainant and deleted the online article, but did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the photographs had been published by the complainant, a custodial parent, online in a publicly available video. It said that whilst images of the child had been published, the child’s face had been pixelated or blurred so that their likeness had not been published.
7. The publication said that the enquiry sent by the journalist prior to the article being published was made with sympathy and discretion, the tone being sympathetic and respectful and made clear why he was approaching the complainant.
Relevant Code Provisions
Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock)
In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. These provisions should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.
Clause 6 (Children)*
i) All pupils should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.
ii) They must not be approached or photographed at school without permission of the school authorities.
iii) Children under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child’s welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.
iv) Children under 16 must not be paid for material involving their welfare, nor parents or guardians for material about their children or wards, unless it is clearly in the child's interest.
v) Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child's private life.
*The Public Interest
There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.
1. The public interest includes, but is not confined to:
2. There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.
3. The regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will become so.
4. Editors invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they reasonably believed publication - or journalistic activity taken with a view to publication – would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest and explain how they reached that decision at the time.
5. An exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16.
Findings of the Committee
8. The Committee expressed their condolences to the complainant. Photos of children in articles that involve their welfare must have the consent of a custodial parent. The Committee found that the death of a grandparent was a matter that related to the welfare of the child and therefore Clause 6 was engaged.
9. The complainant had uploaded two videos onto her social media account as a memorial to her mother. The first she had asked to be shared and had received over 20,000 views at the time of publication. The second she had not actively requested be shared, but similarly had no privacy settings in place. In considering complaints about intrusion, the Committee is required to consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will become so. In this instance, the complainant had created two memorial videos to her mother. In one instance, the complainant had actively sought publicity for the video, soliciting shares to publicise her concerns; the second video, from which the images under complaint had been taken, had also been made public for the purpose of enabling another person (a relative) to share it, although the complainant had not actively solicited people to share it. Taking into account the context that the material had been published by the complainant and in the context of her attempts to raise concern about her mother’s death (albeit through a separate video); that it had been published without privacy settings; and that the child’s face was pixelated such that they would not be generally identifiable, the Committee concluded that there was no breach of Clause 6.
10. The complainant had been contacted prior to the publication of the article. The reporter had been sympathetic, introduced himself as a reporter and asked if it was okay to do a story and asked to speak to her on the phone. Whilst the Committee was aware of the distress caused to the complainant, the Editors’ Code does not require newspapers to gain the consent of the subjects of articles in advance. The Committee also noted that the complainant had stated with regards to the first video, which was the focus of the article, that she wanted “as many people to listen as possible”. Where the publication of the article itself was also handled sensitively there was no breach of Clause 4. Although there was no breach of the Code and the article had apparently aimed to publicise the complainant’s message, the Committee welcomed the publication’s sympathetic and rapid response to the complaint by deleting the online article.
11. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 18/01/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 06/07/2021Back to ruling listing