Decision of the Complaints Committee 08255-16 Lightfoot v Leicester Mercury
Summary of complaint
1. Jason Lightfoot complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation on behalf of his step-daughter that the Leicester Mercury breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Term starts with shoe row”, published on 2 September 2016.
2. The article reported that a school’s uniform policy on shoes had “caused controversy” at the start of the new term when “dozens of pupils” had “failed to meet the standard” set over wearing the correct type of shoe. It said that the school’s policy on shoes was “so controversial […] that […] one pupil even set up a petition to oppose new rules”. It included a number of comments left under the online petition by unnamed people claiming to be pupils at the school.
3. The article appeared in substantively the same form online, but named the pupils whose comments were included in the article.
4. The complainant said that his 15 year-old step-daughter – who was a pupil at the school – had been named in the online article: she had been identified as one of the people who had commented on the online petition. The complainant was concerned that her comments on the school’s uniform policy had been published by the newspaper without his consent in breach of Clause 2 and Clause 6. While he accepted that his step-daughter had commented in her own name on a publicly viewable online petition, he did not expect the newspaper to simply republish the comments without consent; he said that quoting and naming his step-daughter in the article had given the impression that she had been interviewed.
5. The newspaper said that that it was sorry for the complainant’s concern about naming his step-daughter in the online article, but did not accept that doing so breached Clause 6. It said that the complainant’s step-daughter had posted publicly viewable comments on a public website of her own volition. It said that the complainant’s step-daughter had not been photographed or interviewed, and that it was not, therefore, under an obligation to seek parental consent before naming the child.
6. The newspaper said that it had nonetheless removed the pupils’ names from the online article soon after it had received complaints from one of the parents, as a gesture of goodwill. It said that, on the same basis, the names were removed from the article before it went to print.
Relevant Code provisions
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.
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.
Findings of the Committee
7. The Code provides particularly strong protection for children. As such, honouring the full spirit of the Code – as required by the preamble – means that what will constitute an “interview” for the purposes of Clause 6 (iii) is broader than circumstances where a journalist directly solicits comment or information from a child. It might cover the republication of material solicited by third parties. Depending on the circumstances, it might also cover cases where the comments published in the newspaper were unsolicited, such as this one, where the child had posted comments online of her own volition. However, Clause 6 (iii) only requires parental consent where the subject matter of the comments concerns the welfare of a child.
8. In this case, the complainant’s step-daughter’s comments were innocuous in nature, and were not about her, or any other child. Instead, they were about a uniform policy at her school, which was not a matter that concerned her welfare. The complainant’s step-daughter had not experienced unnecessary intrusion into her time at school as a direct result of having had her comments included in the article, and there was no breach of Clause 6.
9. The Committee did not consider that disclosing the fact that the complainant’s step-daughter had posted comments about the school’s uniform policy – or naming her – revealed any intrinsically private information about her. It did not consider that the complainant’s step-daughter had been the subject of an unjustified intrusion into her private life, and there was no breach of Clause 2 on this point.
10. The complaint was not upheld
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 02/09/16
Date decision issued: 02/12/16