Decision of the Complaints Committee 05869-19 Begum V The Daily Mirror
Summary of Complaint
1. Fatema Begum complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mirror breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article headlined "Scandal of 50,000 kids going hungry in summer holiday" published on 30 July 2019.
2. The article reported that "record numbers of children" would "face school holiday hunger during the long summer break" and that "around 50,000 youngsters from disadvantaged homes will get free meals and activities inside schools as the Government quadrupled funding to tackle the crisis". The article reported that "charities have warned of a growing problem of holiday hunger as many families struggle to feed their kids at home". The sub-headline reported that "schools need to feed children during [the] break" and appeared across a photograph of three children sat at a table eating at a summer club in Tower Hamlets. The photograph was also published with the caption "TREAT: kids enjoy fruit at Tower Hamlets summer school". The article featured a section titled "Tower Hamlets it's a tale of two cities" in which it was reported that more than 330 children a day would receive a free breakfast and lunch in that borough. The article further reported that in the constituency of Poplar and Limehouse, 23,706 children lived in poverty, which was double the national average. The section featured a quote from a head teacher at a named school in Tower Hamlets which had “opened its doors” for a holiday club; she said that "no-one will be turned away".
3. The article also appeared in much the same terms online under the headline "National food scandal as 50,000 kids to go hungry this summer holiday", published on 29 July.
4. The complainant, the mother of two of the children featured in the photograph, said that the article breached the terms of Clause 1 as it gave the misleading impression that her children were poor and hungry. She said that the children attended the holiday club for recreational reasons, not financial reasons and said that the club was not means tested.
5. The complainant said that publication of the photograph represented a breach of Clause 6; neither parent had provided consent for a national newspaper to photograph their children, or for their photograph to be published. The complainant said that although she had signed a consent form providing permission for photographs of her children to be taken and used for the purpose of promoting the holiday club, or for use on the school's web channels, the consent did not extend to the publication of photographs in a national newspaper. The complainant said that the misleading impression created by the article that her children were poor and hungry had affected the children's time at school, as it had caused them distress and could lead to bullying.
6. The complainant said that the children had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the information in the image and the circumstances in which it was taken; they should not have been photographed while they were eating and taking part in activities at the club.
7. The publication denied any breach of the Code. It said that it had been invited to the club by the local council and that the club was specifically described to the publication as a "club which alleviates some of the pressures families face during the school holiday period when free school meals are unavailable". Further, the publication said that the local authority press release for the club provided details about child poverty rates in Tower Hamlets and the statistics for eligibility for receiving free school meals. The publication said that it was not inaccurate to publish the photograph of the children in the reported context. The publication noted that the club may have been portrayed in a different way to parents than it had been to the newspaper but said that it was entitled to rely on the council's description.
8. In regard to the alleged breach of Clause 2, the publication emphasised that the invitation from the council clearly stated that filming and photography of holiday club activities, including meal preparation, was on offer to the publication. In circumstances where the publication had been invited to the club by the council and had been given permission by the council, as well as the school authorities to take photographs, the publication said that the children did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy whilst attending the club.
9. The publication noted that Clause 6 states that children should not be photographed on issues concerning their welfare without parental consent but relied on the fact that the council had invited the press to take photographs and the complainant had also provided consent for the children's photograph to be taken. Further, the school authorities had provided permission for the children to be photographed at school and members of staff at the school were present when the reporter attended the club. The publication removed the image from the online article as a gesture of goodwill but said that there was no breach of Clause 6.
Relevant Code Provisions
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. 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
Findings of the Committee
13. The article reported that record numbers of children would go hungry during the Summer holiday and that tens of thousands of children from disadvantaged homes would receive free meals at schools in a bid to tackle the issue. In this context, the article profiled a number of programmes which had been established across the country, one of which was the holiday club attended by the complainant’s children in the London borough of Tower Hamlets. The piece drew a contrast between the wealth of the capital’s neighbouring financial centre and the poverty in the borough, highlighting that 21,000 meals would be served as part of a council scheme. The Committee considered that publication of the image of the complainant’s children in this context was misleading as it implied that the complainant’s children were living in poverty and were in need of free meals during the Summer holiday. The complainant said that this was not the position and that her children had attended the holiday club for other reasons, which was not disputed by the publication. While the Committee acknowledged that the council's invitation to the publication to attend the club had explained that the club “alleviates some of the pressures families face during the school holiday period when free school meals are unavailable”, the newspaper had not taken any steps to verify that the children appearing in the photograph were attending for these reasons, rather than for the activities which were also offered at the club. Given the sensitivity of the subject matter of the article and that the children were clearly identifiable, the Committee found that the publication of the image of the complaint’s children, in the context of an article which focussed on child poverty, represented a failure to take care not to publish misleading information in breach of Clause 1(i). While the Committee acknowledged that the publication had removed the photograph, it did not make any offer to clarify or correct the misleading information and there was a further breach of Clause 1(ii).
14. Clause 6(ii) provides that children must not be approached or photographed at school without permission of the school authorities. In this case, the publication had been invited by the school authority to attend the holiday club and to take photographs; the Committee was therefore satisfied that there was no breach of Clause 6(ii). However, the article centred on child poverty and the need for some children to receive free meals, both sensitive issues involving the welfare of children. The image of the complainant’s children was published in an un-pixelated form in order to illustrate the article and, as such, the terms of Clause 6(iii) were engaged. The Committee noted that the newspaper was invited by the school authority to take photographs at the club and that the authority had described the club in the terms noted above. However, in situations involving a child’s welfare, a publication relying on a third party to obtain consent from a custodial parent should ensure that it represents informed consent for the purpose intended. The consent form, which the parents had signed, gave permission for their children to be photographed for “promotional purposes relating to this programme”. The Committee considered that the limited purposes for which consent had been provided did not cover the taking of a photograph to illustrate an article which focused on child poverty. The consent of a custodial parent had not, therefore, been obtained to photograph the complainant’s children for the purpose for which the image was used and there was a breach of Clause 6.
15. The complainant had provided consent for her children's photograph to be taken while they attended the club, and the image alone did not include any private information about them. As such, the photograph of the children had not been taken in circumstances where they had a reasonable expectation of privacy. There was no breach of Clause 2.
16. The complaint was partly upheld.
Remedial Action Required
17. Having upheld a breach of Clause 1 and Clause 6, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or an adjudication, the terms and placement of which is determined by IPSO.
18. The Committee considered that the circumstances in this case were exceptional. The publication had been invited to take photographs by the school authority, albeit that the invitation would not mean that all of the obligations under the Code were satisfied. The Committee also acknowledged that the invitation to attend the club had referenced the provision of free meals at the holiday club when free school meals were otherwise unavailable and was sent together with a link to a child poverty report. There were, therefore, reasonable grounds for the publication’s understanding that some of the children were attending the club for reasons linked to poverty. The Committee also noted that the publication had removed the photograph prior to the complainant complaining to IPSO. Nevertheless, the publication did not take the necessary care to establish the reason for the attendance of the children before publishing the photograph and to ensure that the consent of a custodial parent had consented to the photograph being taken for the purpose intended. The Committee considered that the appropriate remedy was the publication of a correction to make the complainant’s position clear.
19. The Committee then considered the placement of the correction. The article appeared on pages 4 and 5 in print. Therefore, the correction should appear on page 4 or further forward. It should also appear as a footnote to the online article. It should state that it has been published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation. The full wording and position should be agreed with IPSO in advance.
Date complaint received: 23/04/2019
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 20/12/2019
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