Decision of the Complaints Committee 07797-18 Shorten v Shoreham Herald
Summary of complaint
1. Kyrenia Shorten complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Shoreham Herald breached Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 6 (Children) and Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article headlined "15-year-old ‘shaken up’ after robbery by teens in Shoreham" published on 15 November 2018.
2. The article reported that two teenagers aged 15 and 16 had been robbed in Shoreham, and gave details of the attack drawn from a police appeal for information. The article included several short quotes from a named man whose son was one of the victims. He said that his son was left “shaken up” by the experience, that he never gets into trouble, and that the town was usually a quiet place. The article disclosed the child’s first name, age, home town, and school.
3. The complainant, the child’s mother, said that the information which identified her son should not have been published. She said that her son was vulnerable and the publication of this information had caused him significant distress, to the extent that he had declined to cooperate with the police investigation and was anxious about attending school. She was especially concerned that the publication of these details could mean that her son’s attackers may not be brought to justice.
4. The complainant accepted that her partner, the man named in the article, had posted on Facebook and spoken about the incident to a journalist from the publication. However, she said that her partner did not realise that the information he gave would be published in full, and instead he had assumed that information which identified a child under 16 would not be included in an article as a matter of course; he would not have consented to this information being used in the article if he had known this. She said it was not reasonable for her partner to understand that all of the information he provided to the publication could be used in an article.
5. The complainant
accepted that her partner had posted details of their son’s first name, age,
and connection to the crime on Facebook. However, she noted that he did not
disclose the boy’s school, and said that as he lived in a nearby town, it was
not the case that viewers of the comments would be able to infer from them that
he attended the school reported by the article.
6. The publication strongly denied that there was any breach of the Code, and said that there had been absolutely no intention to mislead the man or to cause any distress. It said that the journalist had been informed of the incident via the police’s appeal for information, saw the man’s comments on a local Facebook group about his son’s involvement, and then contacted him in writing to ask if he would like to provide a comment. It said that the journalist introduced herself and made it clear that she was contacting him for the purposes of an article; it provided screenshots of this interaction. Following this, the journalist spoke to the man on the phone, and he told the journalist his son’s name, age, where he was from, and the school he attended; at no point did he indicate that any parts of the conversation were off the record or not for publication.
7. The publication said that, apart from the details of the child’s school, all of the information published in the article was already in the public domain via the father’s own disclosures on social media; the information about the child’s school was freely disclosed to the journalist by the father. The publication provided screenshots which showed that the man had left comments which named his son in relation to the incident, and gave his age. In addition, the publication said that anyone who read these posts would have a reasonable chance of inferring the child’s school, as there was only one in the local area. The publication noted that the Facebook group had almost 10,000 members – which the publication said was almost 3 times the total number of unique visitors who had read the online article – and anyone who applied to join the group was accepted. It said that these comments remain online.
8. The publication
said that it had the utmost regard for victims of crime, and the only reason it
had included information about the victim was that it was her understanding
that the father had given her explicit permission to do so. In addition, the
publication said that many victims appreciate being given the opportunity to
publicly discuss their experiences: this was often an important and effective
way to highlight the devastating impact of crime on victims and families. The
publication said that the journalist acted in good faith, and had the man had
raised any concerns about any of the information being included, it would have
been happy to redact these from the article. The publication said that after
being contacted by the complainant, it had removed the article immediately from
its website, and had not republished it.
Relevant Code Provisions
9. 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. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.
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.
Clause 9 (Reporting of crime)*
ii) Particular regard should be paid to the potentially vulnerable position of children under the age of 18 who witness, or are victims of, crime. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.
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:
exposing crime, or the threat of crime, or serious impropriety.
Protecting public health or safety.
Protecting the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.
Disclosing a person or organisation’s failure or likely failure to comply with any obligation to which they are subject.
Disclosing a miscarriage of justice.
Raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public.
Disclosing concealment, or likely concealment, of any of the above.
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
10. The Committee expressed sympathy for the complainant and her family, and recognised that the complaint had been made in difficult circumstances. It was unfortunate that there had been a misunderstanding between the complainant’s partner and the publication in circumstances in which the publication was unequivocal that had it known of their concerns, it would not have published the information.
11. However, the question for the Committee was whether the
newspaper had complied with its obligations under the Code. The reporter had
identified herself as a journalist to the complainant’s partner, and invited
him to give a comment for inclusion in the story. The complainant’s partner had
then willingly provided a comment to the reporter, which included much of the
information under complaint. Providing this information to the reporter
represented consent from a custodial parent for the information to be published
and the publication had regard for this consent in making the decision to
publish. In addition, save for the name of the school, the information had already
been placed into the public domain by the parent prior to publication. With
regard to the name of the school, the Committee took into account the limited
number of schools in the local area which the child could have attended; naming
the school in such circumstances did not amount to an unjustified or
unnecessary intrusion into the child’s private life or time at school. There
was no breach of Clause 2 or Clause 6.
12. Clause 9.ii) requires editors to have regard for the potentially vulnerable position of children under the age of 18 who are witnesses or victims of crime. In this case, the child’s father had willingly provided the information which was included in the article, much of which was already in the public domain. The publication had regard for these circumstances when considering the position of the child in line with the obligation of the Clause. There was no breach of Clause 9.
13. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action required
Date complaint received: 09/12/2018
Date decision issued: 13/03/2019
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