Resolution Statement 01754-19 Wallis v

    • Date complaint received

      18th July 2019

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 5 Reporting suicide, 6 Children

Resolution Statement 01754-19 Wallis v

Summary of complaint

1. Robbie Wallis complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 5 (Reporting Suicide) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Momo Challenge's youngest ever victim, 3, told to hurt herself”, published on 28 February 2019.

2. The article reported that an online character called ‘Momo’ threatened and encouraged children to harm themselves and “in some cases even take their own lives”. It included an interview with the mother of a 3 year old child who was said to be the latest “victim” of the so-called “challenge”.

3. The complainant said the article breached Clause 1 as it inaccurately linked Momo to child suicides. He also expressed concern the article put children who would otherwise not have thought of suicide or self-harm at risk. He said that there were no confirmed suicides linked with the ‘Momo Challenge’ and that the publication was wrong to suggest this. The complainant said the article also breached Clause 5 and Clause 6 because he was concerned that the article put children at risk.

4. The publication did not accept that there had been any breach of the Code, however it accepted that there had been no confirmed suicides linked to the Momo character, only that there had been several that were suspected to be linked. Nevertheless, as a gesture of goodwill, the publication offered to amend the article to make clear that the suicides were linked to Momo were “unverified” and to add the following footnote:

“A previous version of this article suggested there had been confirmed suicides linked to the 'Momo challenge'. We are happy to clarify that although there have been suspected links, there has been no confirmed linked suicide cases.”

5. The complainant declined this offer.

Relevant Code provisions

6. 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 5 (Reporting Suicide)*

When reporting suicide, to prevent simulative acts care should be taken to avoid excessive detail of the method used, while taking into account the media's right to report legal proceedings.

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.

Mediated outcome

7. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.

8. After IPSO began its investigation, the publication offered to remove the online article as a gesture of goodwill.

9. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to his satisfaction.

10. 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: 28/02/19

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 13/05/2019