Decision of the Complaints Committee 07908-18 A woman v theargus.co.uk
Summary of complaint
1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that theargus.co.uk breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Teenage girls threaten to stab rail passengers”, published on 17 December 2018.
2. The article reported that two 15-year-old girls – one of whom was the complainant’s daughter - had been filmed threatening to stab “a group of males” on a train. The article quoted from the girls’ comments on the video, including threats of violence they had made to the other passengers, and stated that one of the girls had threatened to rob one of the males. The article reported that the video had been posted on Facebook and widely shared, and included a response from a member of the public. The article included an image of the complainant’s daughter, which was unpixelated, and stated that the British Transport Police had said it was investigating the incident.
3. The article also appeared online on 15 December under the headline “Teenage girls threaten to stab passengers on Portslade train”. This article was largely the same as the print article, but included the video referred to in the article text, in which the complainant’s daughter, and the other girl, were shown unpixelated.
4. The complainant said that the article breached Clause 2 (Privacy) because it included a photograph of her daughter, a minor, which had been published without consent. She also said that the article breached Clause 6 (Children) because her child had been pictured unpixelated; she said this had identified her and exposed her to threats, meaning that she was unable to attend school.
5. The publication denied any breach of Clause 2 (Privacy). It said that the video had been taken in a public place by a member of the public concerned that a crime was being committed; the girls featured in the video had made their comments, including threats, openly and in front of other passengers.
6. The publication
also denied any breach of Clause 6 (Children) in relation to the publication of
the unpixelated stills and video of the complainant’s daughter. It said that
the incident had occurred on 14 December, and that, at this point, the identity
of the girls was not yet known; it had checked this with the police prior to
publication. The publication was still not aware of the confirmed identities of
the girls prior to print publication on 17 December. It had contacted the
police again prior to print publication, and they had confirmed that they did
not have verified identities for the girls. In these circumstances, it
considered that there was a significant public interest in publishing the unpixelated
images, in both the online and print articles, in order to assist in the
identification of possible perpetrators of crime.
7. Nevertheless, on receiving the complaint through IPSO, the publication promptly contacted the complainant and pixelated the girls’ faces in the video, as a means of resolving the complaint. However, the complainant did not agree that this action resolved her complaint.
Relevant Code Provisions
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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
11. The complainant’s daughter had engaged in what appeared
to be threatening and abusive behaviour, which included threats of violence and
robbery, in a public place and in full view and earshot of a number of members
of the public. In these circumstances, she did not have any reasonable
expectation of privacy in relation to the words she used, or her appearance,
and there was no breach of Clause 2 (Privacy).
12. Clause 6 (Children) provides additional protections to young people, over and above those provided by Clause 2 (Privacy), and states that children must not be photographed on issues involving their welfare unless a parent consents, or there is an exceptional public interest in doing so. The Committee considered that the article reported on a matter that was clearly related to the complainant’s daughter’s welfare – namely, her public behaviour and conduct, and the fact that she was engaging in alleged potentially criminal activity. There was a clear public interest in reporting this potentially criminal activity, in that doing so contributed to an ongoing public debate around young people’s involvement in crime - given the threats which appeared to be made in the video.
13. Nevertheless, publishing unpixelated images of the complainant’s daughter also had the potential to intrude into the complainant’s daughter’s time at school, in that it identified her in relation to the alleged criminal behaviour. An exceptional public interest was therefore required given the protections provided by Clause 6 (Children).
14. The Committee noted that the unpixelated video had been widely circulated on Facebook, and was in the public domain prior to publication; the complainant’s daughter’s identity was therefore already known to a wide number of people. However, the publication did not know the identity of the complainant’s daughter prior to the publication of the online or print articles, and had confirmed, prior to each publication, that the police were also unaware of her identity. The police had also confirmed that the incident was being investigated. In these circumstances, the publication of the unpixelated images of the complainant’s daughter, online and in print, contributed to the identification of a possible perpetrator of crime, and it was clear that the publication had given the required consideration to this public interest prior to publication, by first contacting the police for information. Given that the complainant’s daughter had been recorded engaging in conduct in a public place which appeared to amount to a criminal offence, there was a substantial public interest in identifying her through the publication of the unpixelated images, which was sufficient to meet the requirements of Clause 6 (Children). There was no breach of Clause 6.
15. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 17/12/2018
Date decision issued: 07/03/2019
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