Resolution statement 09388-19 Brooks v metro.co.uk
Summary of complaint
1. Claire Brooks, on behalf of her son, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that metro.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article headlined "Head boy and girl’s X-rated leavers’ speech leaves pupils ‘in tears’” published on 21 June 2019.
2. The article reported that the head boy and head girl of a school had been “accused of ruining pupils’ lives” following a speech they gave during a leavers’ day celebration and were being “ordered to apologise”. The article reported that the pair were “said to have singled out individuals, joked about cross dressing and pointed out others for not performing well in the school year”. The article reported on comments from two parents who attended the event criticising the speech’s content. The article featured a comment from the local council, which said: “The school is currently dealing with this in line with the council’s complaints procedures. In the meantime, we would apologise for any upset that may have been caused by the speech.”
3. The complainant, who attended the event, said that the article gave an inaccurate account of the speech her 18-year-old son had given at the leavers’ event at his school. She said that the speech did not humiliate, bully, or ruin the lives of pupils as alleged; the content focused on their friends who had consented to their inclusion and the speech was well received. The complainant said that these views were represented in a follow-up article published by another publication which defended the two pupils. She said that the article under complaint presented a one-sided and biased account based solely on the view of the two parents, who had an agenda. The complainant disputed that the speech’s content was unsuitable, or as described in the article, and noted that there were no swear or sexual words used, and that the jokes were almost entirely innuendo.
4. The complainant said that the article intruded into her son’s time at school in breach of Clause 6 and its publication had caused her son stress and risked damaging his reputation. The complainant said that her son still had school duties to undertake at the time of publication; the speech was given on 17 June and his final duties were to take place on 27 June. He was therefore still a pupil of the school until the end of the academic session; whether his academic studies were completed was irrelevant. The complainant noted that learning was not limited to academic qualifications and emphasised that school provides an environment for pupils to practise for the world of work and life after education; pupils should be allowed to try and fail free from the scrutiny of newspapers in the event they misjudge a situation. The complainant also said that due to the size of their hometown everyone would have known who the two pupils were and as a result her son was identifiable in the article.
5. The publication denied that its article, which was based on an article published in another publication, was inaccurate. It said that its article reported on the reaction of the parents referenced, who were offended by the unconventional nature of the speech, and while it did not doubt that there were individuals who, like the complainant, had taken no offence or objection, not including their position did not render the article inaccurate. The publication also said that it had approached the local council for comment who had confirmed receipt of a complaint and apologised for any upset caused, which demonstrated that the speech had caused some distress.
6. The publication denied a breach of Clause 6. It noted that it did not name the complainant’s son and while he may have been identifiable to some people in their hometown, this was unavoidable in the circumstances. The publication highlighted that the ceremony at which the speech was given marked the end of the pupils’ time at school and the complainant’s son would have graduated eight days after the article’s publication, therefore it could not have severely impacted his academic studies. The publication also emphasised that it did not contact the complainant’s son in any capacity in line with its obligations under Clause 6. It also noted that the allegation of any intrusion was at odds with the complainant’s own disclosures regarding the follow-up article published in another publication. It said this article reported the level of support he had received from the school and wider community, and that this demonstrated that there was no intrusion or impact as to breach the terms of Clause 6.
7. The publication also said that there was a legitimate public interest in publishing the article because of the school’s allowance and support of the unconventional, arguably ‘risqué’, content of the speech that was to be given in front of the student body, as well as students’ families and friends.
8. Notwithstanding its position that there was no breach of the Code. The publication said that it would be willing publish a statement from the complainant in the article and would also consider adding some positive comments on the speech.
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.
Clause 6 (Children)*
i) All pupils should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.
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:
Detecting or 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 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.
10. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.
11. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code but offered to remove the article as a gesture of goodwill.
12. The complainant said she was content to resolve the complaint on this basis.
13. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.
Date complaint received: 06/12/19
Date complaint concluded: 16/06/2020
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