Ruling

00256-15 A woman v Lancashire Evening Post

    • Date complaint received

      7th April 2015

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      3 Harassment, 7 Children in sex cases

Decision of the Complaints Committee 00256-15 A woman v Lancashire Evening Post

Summary of complaint

1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Lancashire Evening Post had breached Clause 3 (Privacy) and Clause 7 (Children in sex cases) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article published in January 2015.

2. The article reported that photographs of children from Lancashire had been found on a file sharing website which the newspaper described variously as a "Russian pervert website" and a "paedophile website". The article reported that most of the pictures were accompanied by sexually suggestive comments from users across the world which suggested that they were being used for sexual gratification.

3. The article was illustrated with five pixelated photographs of local children which had been hosted on the Russian site.

4. The complainant said that two of these images were of her young child. They had originally been published on her Facebook profile, and recognised from the newspaper by friends who had alerted her to the article. She said that – given the content of the website – publishing photographs in which her child was identifiable intruded into her child's privacy in breach of Clause 3 and Clause 7, as they had been reproduced from a website where they had been used for sexual gratification.

5. The newspaper defended its use of the photographs as an important element of a public-interest story, which made clear the nature of the material on the website. While it had been unable to contact the parents of the children involved before publication because it did not know their identities, it had alerted local schools to give them a chance to implement child protection procedures. The newspaper said that it had been contacted by other parents who were grateful that they had been alerted to the possible use of images of their children in this way. Following its coverage, the link to photographs of children from Lancashire had been removed from the website, and a local MP had become involved in the issue.

6. While the photographs were not pornographic, they were sensitive, and it had therefore chosen to publish them heavily pixelated and in a small size (smaller than a postage stamp), in its print edition only. It strongly denied that the child was identifiable from the photographs. Nonetheless, it apologised to the complainant for the distress caused by their publication, and removed the images from a planned follow-up article after being contacted by her directly. As the article did not relate to a court case, it did not agree that the terms of Clause 7 were engaged.

Relevant Code Provisions

7. Clause 3 (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. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information.

Clause 7 (Children in sex cases)

i) The press must not, even if legally free to do so, identify children under 16 who are victims or witnesses in cases involving sex offences.

The Public Interest

5. In cases involving children under 16, editors must demonstrate an exceptional public interest to over-ride the normally paramount interest of the child.

Findings of the Committee

8. The article under complaint had led to the removal of the photographs of local children from the website, new child protection procedures at local schools, and the involvement of a local MP. The right of the newspaper to publish the story was not in doubt, and indeed it had performed a valuable public service by publicising the issue.

9. The pixelation of the images had evidently been insufficient to prevent the child from being identified by those who were familiar with them. The newspaper knew that the images had been sourced from publicly accessible social media profiles; it should therefore have recognised the risk that the child could be identified in this way.

10. The photographs had previously been published by the complainant on social media, in innocuous circumstances. However, the fact that the child had featured on the Russian website constituted significant and deeply personal new information, with the clear potential to cause significant trauma and disruption. Notwithstanding the public interest in the story itself, there was no public interest which justified the publication of identifiable photographs of the child in this context. Publication, in this form, represented a failure to respect the child's family life and a breach of Clause 3.

11. On this occasion, given that it was not suggested that the child in question had been the victim in a case involving a sex offence, the Committee did not establish a separate breach of Clause 7.

Conclusions

12. The complaint was upheld under Clause 3 (Privacy).

Remedial Action Required

13. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. The Committee has the power to require the publication of a correction and/or adjudication, the nature, extent and placement of which is to be determined by IPSO. It may also inform the publication that further remedial action is required to ensure that the requirements of the Code are met.

14. The Committee required the newspaper to publish the Committee's ruling upholding the complaint. The article had been published on the front page of the newspaper, and continued on page 9. The adjudication should be published in full on page 9, with a front page reference directing readers to this page, which should include the headline of the adjudication. The headline should make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint, and refer to its subject matter; it must be agreed in advance.

15. The terms of the adjudication to be published are as follows:

Following an article published in the Lancashire Evening Post in January 2015, a woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) that the Post had intruded into her child's privacy, in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors' Code of Practice. IPSO upheld the complaint and established a breach of the Editors' Code. IPSO required the Post to publish this decision by its Complaints Committee as a remedy to the breach.

The article reported that photographs of children from Lancashire had been found on a file sharing website which the newspaper described variously as a “Russian pervert website” and a “paedophile website”. The article reported that most of the pictures were accompanied by sexually suggestive comments from users across the world which suggested that they were being used for sexual gratification.

The article was illustrated with five pixelated photographs of local children which had been hosted on the Russian site.

The complainant said that two of these images were of her young child. They had originally been published on her Facebook profile, and recognised from the newspaper by friends who had alerted her to the article. She said that – given the content of the website – publishing photographs in which her child was identifiable intruded into her child's privacy in breach of Clause 3, as they had been reproduced from a website where they had been used for sexual gratification.

The newspaper defended its use of the photographs as an important element of a public-interest story, which made clear the nature of the material on the website. While it had been unable to contact the parents of the children involved before publication because it did not know their identities, it had alerted local schools to give them a chance to implement child protection procedures. The newspaper said that it had been contacted by other parents who were grateful that they had been alerted to the possible use of images of their children in this way. Following its coverage, the link to photographs of children from Lancashire had been removed from the website, and a local MP had become involved in the issue.

While the photographs were not pornographic, they were sensitive, and it had therefore chosen to publish them heavily pixelated and in a small size (smaller than a postage stamp), in its print edition only. It strongly denied that the child was identifiable from the photographs. Nonetheless, it apologised to the complainant for the distress caused by their publication, and removed the images from a planned follow-up article after being contacted by her directly.

IPSO's Complaints Committee understood that the article under complaint had led to the removal of the photographs of local children from the website, new child protection procedures at local schools, and the involvement of a local MP. The right of the newspaper to publish the story was not in doubt, and indeed it had done a valuable public service by publicising the issue.

The pixelation of the images had evidently been insufficient to prevent the child from being identified by those who were familiar with them. The newspaper knew that the images had been sourced from publicly accessible social media profiles; it should therefore have recognised the risk that the child could be identified in this way.

The photographs had previously been published by the complainant on social media, in innocuous circumstances. However, the fact that the child had featured on the Russian website constituted significant and deeply personal new information, with the clear potential to cause significant trauma and disruption. Notwithstanding the public interest in the story itself, there was no public interest which justified the publication of identifiable photographs of the child in this context. Publication, in this form, represented a failure to respect the child's family life and a breach of Clause 3.

Date complaint received: 15/01/2015

Date decision issued: 07/04/2015