Ruling

03003-18 A woman v Sunday Life

    • Date complaint received

      19th July 2018

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      2 Privacy, 6 Children

Decision of the Complaints Committee 03003-18 A woman v Sunday Life

Summary of complaint

1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Sunday Life breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “[Named man]’s DAD’S KILLER”, published on 8 April 2018.

2. The article reported that a named man was involved in the murder of a man 30 years ago. The article was illustrated with a number of recent photographs of the perpetrator, including one with a young child on his lap. The child’s face had been pixelated. The article explained that the man had been sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder, but had been released from prison at the end of 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. The article named the town where the man was from and claimed that “behind the family man façade”, he was a “hate filled killer”.

3. The article also reported that the victim’s son had recently spoken publicly about the murder of his father in a BBC documentary.

4. The complainant, the mother of the child pictured, said that the publication of the photograph had identified her child, who was currently in nursery, and had been intrusive. She said that the ethnicity of the child had been revealed from the photograph, despite pixilation, and the article had published information about the man which she said would lead to the child’s identification and her familial connection to him. The complainant said that the people who knew her and her child had not been aware of the man’s past; the article had, therefore, identified her child as having an association with an individual involved in a historic murder. She said that because of this, the publication of the photograph had caused a real and serious risk to her, and her family’s, safety. She also expressed concern that following the article’s publication, her child had not been welcome in homes their friend’s homes to play.

5. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the photo was heavily pixelated and noted that the article did not disclose the child’s name, relationship to the perpetrator, or their likeness.  It said that the effect of pixilation, and the omission of these details, meant that the child would not have been identifiable to anyone who did not already know the child, or their connection to the subject of the article. It noted that the photograph had been previously published, un-pixelated, on a publicly available Facebook account.

6. It said that there was a public interest in publishing a photograph which showed that the man was, unlike his victim, able to enjoy a family life with an unidentified child on his knee, in circumstances where he had deprived his victim of that basic right. It said that the man’s murder had drawn much public comment and debate, because his son had spoken publicly about his father’s murder and the considerable pain and anguish it had caused to his family.

Relevant Code Provisions

7. Clause 2 (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.

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.

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 or 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.

Findings of the Committee

8. A pixelated photograph of a very young child had been published in an article which reported on a man’s conviction for murder. The Committee carefully scrutinised the newspaper’s decision to publish the photograph - in its pixelated form- and whether the image represented an intrusion into the child’s privacy, or their time at school.

9. The photograph had depicted the child, seated on the lap of a man who the article had identified as being involved in a historic murder. This clearly related to an issue involving to the child’s welfare, particularly where they had a familial relationship with the subject of the article. The Code’s starting point is that parental consent is required; in this instance, no consent had been obtained.

10. In considering the complaint under Clause 6, the Committee had regard to the level of intrusion caused by the photograph’s disclosure in the article under complaint, as well as the public interest identified by the newspaper as justifying its publication.

11. The Committee noted that it had been acknowledged by the complainant that people within her community were previously aware of the child’s connection to the man, but had not known of the man’s involvement in the historic murder. However, the intrusive effect of the photograph had been significantly limited by the newspaper’s decision to heavily pixelate the image which, prior to its publication in the article, had been available – un-pixelated – on an open social media platform. Further, the photograph had not been accompanied with the child’s name, nor had it been published alongside details relating to the child’s life, or details which revealed the nature of the child’s association with the subject of the article.

12. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern that her child’s ethnicity had been revealed by the published photograph. However, the omission of any accompanying details relating to child from the article, and the effect of heavily pixelating the child’s face, limited the extent to which the child would have been identifiable to those who would not already have been aware of their association with the subject of the article.

13. Furthermore, the Committee also considered that there was a public interest justifying publication of the photograph, as it demonstrated that the man was able to enjoy a family life, having denied this opportunity to his victim.

14. Taking into consideration the limited intrusive effect of the published photograph, and the public interest justifying publication, the requirement for parental consent was overridden and the Committee did not establish that the photograph-in its heavily pixelated form- represented an intrusion into the child’s time at school. The complaint under Clause 6 was not upheld.

15. For the same reasons, the Committee did not establish that the publication of the photograph had revealed information about the child which represented an intrusion into their privacy. The complaint under Clause 2 was not upheld.  

Conclusions

16. The complaint was not upheld.

Date complaint received: 09/04/2018

Date decision issued: 02/07/2018