Decision of the Complaints Committee – 27841-20 Dainton v Bristol Post
Summary of Complaint
1. Hayley Dainton complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Bristol Post breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Wrong uniform Pupil sent home on first day back”, published on 7 September 2020.
2. The article reported on a mother who had criticised her son’s school for sending him home for wearing the wrong uniform. The mother was quoted in the article as saying “It is a real struggle for parents on a budget to be able to afford this expensive school uniform and shoes, and I’ve been saving up as much as I could all summer. In the end, when I went to buy [the child’s] uniform I found there’s a ten-day delivery time, and it didn’t come in time.” The article named the mother, her son and the school, and contained a photograph of the mother and her son in the outfit he had been sent home in.
3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format with the headline “Mum's fury as boy sent home from secondary school after 15 minutes because he wasn't wearing the right clothes”.
4. The complainant, the woman quoted, said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. She considered that the article suggested inaccurately that she had financial difficulties and denied having said that “It is a real struggle for parents on a budget to be able to afford this expensive school uniform and shoes, and I’ve been saving up as much as I could all summer.” She said that the point she had tried to make was that the shop had not been open to the public during the summer, and that she had not discussed any financial matters with the reporter.
5. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 6 (Children) because it intruded into her son’s privacy. She said that her son had asked the photographer to keep his face blurred in the photographs. Initially the complainant said that the photographer had responded that he would ask his manager what could be done about that, and later in IPSO’s investigation stated that the photographer had said his manager would “sort it out”. She said that her son was embarrassed to attend school as a result of the article, and that when he did attend, other children referred to the article. The complainant said that this led to her son’s permanent exclusion and made her, and her son feel embarrassed and ashamed. The complainant said that the publication had not expressly asked for her consent for her, her son, and the school to be named.
6. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the complainant had approached it about running a story on the issue, and it provided a copy of the email she had sent to its news desk. A reporter had subsequently had a telephone conversation with the complainant, and provided contemporaneous notes of this that reflected what had been written in the article. The relevant passage of the notes stated that “Because of coronavirus (they were) only doing online orders (and to) allow at least 10 days. I saved up all summer for this (but) they've got a massive backlog. I have looked elsewhere; ”I put it in 10 days on Tuesday I thought I could go in and buy it“... ”The teacher rang me last week I told him the uniform hasn’t come. It’s a real struggle for parents on a budget, I've been saving up as much as I could, it’s black trousers, school shirt, (he) borrowed her tie, black sweatshirt.”
7. The publication apologised that the publication of the article had caused the complainant and her son distress, but did not accept that there had been a breach of Clause 2 or Clause 6. It noted that the complainant had approached it about the story and had posed willingly with her son for photographs to illustrate it. It denied any knowledge that a request had been made to pixelate the photograph. While the photographer no longer worked for the publication, it provided an account from the reporter. The reporter said that the photographer had discussed what the photos would look like with the complainant and her son at the time they were taken, and that it had received no instruction to blur the photographs from either the photographer or the complainant. It said that the complainant had not asked for herself, her son, or the school to be anonymous. The publication did not accept that the photographs contained any personal or private information about the complainant or her son and noted that all the information had been provided by the complainant.
8. At the start of IPSO’s investigation the publication offered to delete the online article as a gesture of goodwill.
9. The complainant said that this would not resolve her complaint as she believed the harm had already been done by the publication of the article.
Relevant Code Provisions
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 2 (Privacy)*
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental 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.
Findings of the Committee
10. Because of the apparent impact the story had on the complainant’s son, the Committee considered first the complaints under Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 6 (Children) about the publication of the unpixellated photograph.
11. Clause 2 states that editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual’s private life without consent, and that in considering an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy, the Committee must take account of the person’s own public disclosures of information. Clause 6 contains special protections for children. Clause 6(i) provides that all pupils should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion. Clause 6 (ii) states that children under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues relating to their welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.
12. At the heart of the complaint was a dispute that the Committee could not reconcile: the complainant said that her son had requested that his face be blurred, and that the photographer had responded that he would “ask his manager”, and that later in the investigation said that the photographer had said his manager would “sort it out”, but the newspaper then published the photograph without further communication. The publication denied any knowledge of the request. It was not in dispute, however, that the complainant had approached the newspaper seeking publication of the story and had provided information about the dispute, including her own name, the name of her son and the school. The complainant had volunteered this information for publication without any restriction on its use, and therefore the Committee found she had consented to the publication of this information, even if she was not expressly asked for written consent.
13. The complainant had also consented to the publication of photographs of herself and her son by arranging and then posing for the photographs. While it was a matter of significant regret that the complainant’s son’s education had been affected by the publication of the story, and that there was a dispute over whether a request had been made for his face to be blurred; in circumstances where the complainant had consented to the publication of information about the dispute, including her name, her son’s name, and the name of his school, the complainant’s son would have been identified even if his photograph had been blurred. On this basis, the article did not breach Clause 2 or Clause 6. Nonetheless the Committee welcomed the publication’s offer to remove the article, given the distress caused to the complainant’s son.
14. The Committee then considered the complaint under Clause 1. There was a disagreement between the complainant and the publication as to whether the complainant had said the quotes which had been attributed to her in the article. The reporter had taken contemporaneous notes during the interview with the complainant and supplied these to IPSO during its investigation. Clause 1(i) requires that publications take care not to publish inaccuracies. One way in which publications can demonstrate care taken over accuracy is through the production of contemporaneous notes. In this instance, the publication had been able to supply contemporaneous shorthand notes that supported the accuracy of the quotes included in the article. Whilst the complainant denied that she had made these statements, where the contemporaneous notes supported what had been reported in the article and no counterevidence [MR1] undermining the notes or supporting the complainant’s position was presented to the Committee, the Committee did not establish a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, and there was no breach of Clause 1.
15. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 06/09/2020
Date decision issued: 06/04/2021