Decision of the Complaints Committee 01690-17 A woman v mirror.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that mirror.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Heartbroken mum shares distressing footage of bullies attacking her 12-year-old daughter before leaving her lying in a gutter”, published on 4 March 2017.
2. The article reported on a physical altercation involving two young girls, and contained a 40 second video of the incident. The video showed the two girls walking alongside each other at the side of a road. It showed one of the girls shouting at the other, before appearing to pull her to the ground and punch and kick the second girl; the article reported that the second girl had been “left lying terrified in a heap in the gutter”. Both of the girls had their faces pixelated. The article reported that that “the sick footage” had been “filmed by one of the bullies”. The quality of the recording was affected by the fact that the video was shot at night, in dim light.
3. The article reported that the video appears to show the second girl being “verbally abused” before being “dragged to the floor in the middle of the road by another girl”. It said that “a mum has shared distressing footage of a brutal attack that left her 12-year-old daughter lying in a gutter in her bid to raise awareness of school bullying “. As well as the video, the article included stills of the footage, again with both girls’ faces pixelated. The article reported that “the incident has been reported to West Yorkshire Police and the distressing footage has been shared more than 4,000 times on social media”.
4. The article contained a statement from the head teacher of the second girl’s school confirming that “staff spent time with the student and spoke to parents” and that it had contacted “external agencies” as the “alleged attacker” was not a pupil at the school.
5. The complainant, the mother of the first girl, expressed concern that the article inaccurately referred to her 15-year-old daughter as a “bully”, when the police were aware that her daughter was the individual involved in the altercation, and the matter was still being investigated by them.
6. The complainant said that she had not given her permission for the video to be published, and said that by including it in the article, alongside its accompanying stills, the newspaper had breached her daughter’s privacy. The complainant did not accept that it was in the public interest to report on, or publish footage of, the incident.
7. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the video showed an anti-social and potentially criminal act, which was filmed in a public location by another person allegedly bullying the victim. The newspaper said that it had ensured that the footage and pictures had been pixelated, in order to protect the identity of those shown. The newspaper noted that, prior to the article’s publication, the footage had been placed in public domain, having been circulated on social media. It had also been referred to by the police in their appeal for information.
8. The newspaper said that it had considered the Code before publication and decided that it was in the public interest to report on the incident. It said that the serious and anti-social nature of the activity was demonstrated by the fact that the police decided to conduct additional neighbourhood patrols in the area to offer reassurance to the community.
Relevant Code Provisions
9. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.
iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
v) A publication must report fairly and accurately the outcome of an action for defamation to which it has been a party, unless an agreed settlement states otherwise, or an agreed statement is published.
Clause 2 (Privacy)*
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.
ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
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.
The public interest includes, but is not confined to:
i. Detecting or exposing crime, or the threat of crime, or serious impropriety.
ii. Protecting public health or safety.
iii. Protecting the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.
iv. Disclosing a person or organisation’s failure or likely failure to comply with any obligation to which they are subject.
v. Disclosing a miscarriage of justice.
vi. Raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public.
vii. Disclosing concealment, or likely concealment, of any of the above.
viii. There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.
ix. The regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will or will become so.
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.
An exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to over-ride the normally paramount interest of children under 16.
Findings of the Committee
10. Critical to the Committee’s consideration of this complaint was the fact that it related to a child. While the footage had been filmed on a public street, and had been shared more than 4,000 times on social media, the Committee had received no evidence that either the complainant or her daughter had consented to her being filmed, or to the footage being shared on social media or otherwise placed in the public domain, let alone published to a large audience. In these circumstances, the Committee concluded that the complainant’s daughter had a reasonable, albeit limited, expectation of privacy in relation to the footage.
11. Nonetheless, whilst the video might have identified the girl to a limited number of people within her local community beyond those who were already aware of it from its previous circulation, the newspaper had taken steps to minimise the extent of this, by not naming her and thoroughly pixelating the images and footage. In those circumstances, and given the previous circulation of the footage within the girl’s community, the Committee considered that any intrusion into the complainant’s daughter’s private life posed by the further publication of the footage had been limited.
12. The Committee considered that there existed a very strong public interest justifying publication. There was a public interest in enabling the second girl’s mother to discuss the effect that the behaviour featured in the video had on her daughter, and to use the video and stills as part of that story, particularly where the video itself had formed part of the incident to which her daughter was subject. There was also a public interest in contributing to public debate about anti-social behaviour amongst young people, and the video illustrated vividly, in a way that would not have been possible through words alone, the nature of the behaviour. Further, the newspaper had taken steps to limit the extent of the intrusion into the complainant’s daughter’s privacy. The Committee concluded that in this instance an exceptional public interest justified publication of the video in its pixelated form. The complaint under Clause 2 was not upheld.
13. Similarly, the Committee found no breach of Clause 6 (Children). While the footage had the potential to intrude into the complainant’s daughter’s time at school, given the nature of the behaviour shown and the significant public interest in publication, this intrusion was not “unnecessary”. The fact that the complainant’s daughter had engaged in the activity shown in the video was a matter that related to her, and to the second girl’s welfare. As such, the Code's starting point is that parental consent would be required for the publication of the video and stills under the terms of Clause 6(iii). However, this requirement was overridden by the public interest in its publication.
14. The Committee finally considered the complaint about the article’s accuracy. It did not consider that it was significantly inaccurate or misleading to characterise the complainant’s daughter as a “bully”, in circumstances where the footage appeared to show the her pulling another girl to the floor, and punching and kicking her as she lay on the ground, and had been shared by the alleged victim’s mother, in order to raise awareness of school bullying. There was no breach of Clause 1.
15. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 05/03/2017
Date decision issued: 15/06/2017Back to ruling listing