Decision of the Complaints Committee 30003-20 A man v burymercury.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. A man complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that burymercury.co.uk breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Would you be happy if your child was served this school Christmas dinner?”, published on 18 December 2020.
2. The article reported on an image of the Christmas dinner given to students at a school. It reported that “photographs” had been shared on social media, and referenced a Facebook post which had “attracted more than 200 comments”. The article referred to various comments that had been made on the post, and stated that multiple people had posted images of the food.
3. The complainant said that he had posted an image of the Christmas diner taken by his daughter, a student at the school, on Facebook. He said that he had been contacted by a journalist asking whether she could use his post in the paper, and he had declined because his daughter had previously received strange looks at school from members of staff. He said that the article had included his post anyway, and even if he was not named, this was a breach of his and his daughter’s privacy under Clause 2. He also said that, as his daughter had received funny looks from school staff, and other students had asked her why her father had spoken to the papers, the article had intruded into his daughter’s time at school in breach of Clause 6.
4. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said, firstly, that the image and the comments in the article had not been supplied by the complainant, but by one of the hundreds of people who had commented on the complainant’s public Facebook post. It said the article did not identify the complainant or his daughter, and said it was free to refer to a Facebook post made on a public group Facebook page with over 4300 members as well as speak to the school and other parents who had commented. The publication also stated that reporting on school dinners was in the public interest.
5. The complainant confirmed that the image published in the article was not the one he had posted to Facebook. He said, however, that he and his daughter were still identifiable as he had posted the original post. The complainant also said that he owned all of the images and comments on the post as he was the original poster, and retained the ability to delete the Facebook post and all the comments beneath it.
Relevant Clause Provisions
Clause 2 (Privacy)*
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for 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
6. The Committee noted that the article did not include any of the content the complainant had published on Facebook – it did not include the photograph he posted, his accompanying comment, or his name. The only reference to his post on the subject was in the following anonymous terms: “a Facebook post with an image of a boxed festive lunch [supplied by a named school] … attracted more than 200 comments”. The article did not, therefore, include any information pertaining to him over which the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy. The post had been published on the page of a public Facebook group, with a wide membership of over 4000 individuals. This amounted to publication in the public domain, and the publication was therefore fully entitled to refer to the complainant’s comment in its article. There was no breach of Clause 2.
7. It was regrettable that the complainant’s daughter felt her time at school had been intruded upon following the publication of the article. However, the Committee did not agree that the actions of the newspaper amounted to unnecessary intrusion into her time at school. The article had included no reference to the daughter, or even her father. Indeed, it did not even detail the content of her father’s comment on the school dinner. The article simply referred to the existence of a post which had attracted a number of comments in response. The article did not, therefore, intrude into the complainant’s daughter’s time at school. There was no breach of Clause 6.
8. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 21/12/2020
Date decision issued: 16/03/2021Back to ruling listing