Ruling

03565-18 McGurk v scottishdailystar.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      18th October 2018

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock, 6 Children

Decision of the Complaints Committee 03565-18 McGurk v scottishdailystar.co.uk

Summary of complaint

1. Cara McGurk complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the scottishdailystar.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Tragedy as schoolboy, 7, dies after soft play birthday party”, published on 10 April 2018.

2. The article, published on a Wednesday, reported on the sudden death of a young child the preceding Saturday. The article named the child and was illustrated with a photograph of him. It reported that the child had died shortly after celebrating his brother’s 10th birthday party, after leaving the venue with his family.

3. The article was illustrated with a photograph of the child’s mother. It reported that she was “being offered support by relative and specialist police officers”.

4. The article was illustrated with a pull-out quote which was attributed to an unnamed family friend of the child’s mother: “He has three brothers and his mum was super proud of them all”. In the body of the article, these words were attributed to an unnamed “family member”.

5. The complainant, the child’s paternal aunt, said that publication had been handled insensitively. She expressed concern that the newspaper had published details concerning the child, without parental consent. She said that the publication of the article had caused further distress at a difficult time for the family, and had been intrusive.

6. The complainant said that although close immediate family members had been informed, at the time the article had been published, some family members and friends had been unaware of the child’s death, which had occurred three days earlier. She said that some of these people had found out about the child’s death after seeing the article.

7. The complainant said that the photographs of the child and his mother were private. She suggested that the photographs may have been obtained from the child’s mother’s Facebook page, but said that she had privacy settings on her account at the time the article was published. She said that no consent had been given by either of the child’s parents for photographs of him to be published.

8. The complainant said it was inaccurate, in breach of Clause 1, to report that the child’s mother had been comforted by specialist police officers; no such support had been received by her. She also raised concern that the article had contained a quote, purportedly from a family member; she said that no family members had made any comments to the press.

9. The complainant also raised concern that the article had disclosed private details of the child’s older brother, namely his age and the fact that it had been his birthday, without parental consent.

10. The publication said that the article was based upon other news reports of the tragedy. Upon receipt of the complaint, and out of respect for the family’s wishes, the publication said that it had deleted the article from its internal system, and online. The publication said that as a consequence, the system was no longer recording the source of the article, but noted that the article had directly referenced coverage from the Daily Record. The publication said that, in any event, it understood that at the time of incident, the police had issued a statement requesting that the family’s privacy be respected and that they were assisting the family. It said that the journalist did not rely solely upon other news reports, but also telephoned the local police authority for confirmation of the story. The publication said that the police confirmed the facts of the death, and that friends, family and the police were providing support.

11. The publication had published a quote, made by a family friend to another publication, and had accidentally attributed it to a family member. However the publication did not accept that this rendered the article significantly inaccurate or misleading.

12. In an attempt to resolve the complaint, the publication offered to publish the following wording on its home page:

Apology – Family of Harris McGurk

On 10 April 2015 we published an article headlined “Tragedy as schoolboy, 7, dies after soft play birthday party”. The article reported on the death of Harris McGurk who collapsed after leaving a party venue in Edinburgh. Our article said that ‘specialist police officers’ were offering support to Selina MacKenzie. According to the family they were not offered any support by the police. The article was illustrated with a picture of Harris and we apologise if the family were caused upset by the use of that image to illustrate the article. Finally our article said ‘Footie fan Harris, one of four brothers, was last night described as a “smashing boy”. We understand the family were also upset about the reporting of the fact Harris had three brothers and again we apologise if the inclusion of this fact caused them additional upset.

13. The publication denied that the publication of the photograph of the child’s mother represented an intrusion into her private life. It said that the image did nothing more than show her appearance and did not disclose any private information about her.

14. The publication said that the report did not include any information regarding the child’s siblings, such as their names, ages or any other personal details. It denied that the publication of the fact that the child had siblings and that he had attended an older brother’s birthday party, amounted to a failure to respect his siblings private life, or represented a breach of Clause 6.

Relevant Code provisions

15. 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.

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 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock)

In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. These provisions should not restrict the 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.

Findings of the Committee

16. The Committee first wished to express its sincere condolences for the complainant and her family’s loss.

17. The Committee acknowledged that the complainant and her family had been distressed at the reporting of the child’s death. The Committee wished to explain that journalists have a right to report the fact of a person’s death; a person’s death may have an impact on communities, as well as individuals, and as such constitute a legitimate subject for reporting. The Editors’ Code of Practice does not prevent the use of any photos of people who have died. However, the Code also makes clear that journalists should approach such stories with sensitivity, and give appropriate consideration to the feelings of the recently bereaved.

18. Clause 4 says that in cases involving personal grief, publication should be handled sensitively; immediate family members should not expect to be made aware of the death of a family member by the publication of an article. In this instance, immediate family members were aware of the child’s death at the time of the article’s publication. Further, the Committee noted that the article had been published three days after the tragedy had occurred. In those circumstances, and where the article did not contain gratuitous detail of the circumstances surrounding the child’s death, the Committee did not conclude that the report of the child’s death represented a failure to handle publication sensitively. There was no breach of Clause 4.

19. The publication were unable to clarify where the two photographs had been obtained from, however it was not in dispute that at the time of publication, the photograph of the child, and the photograph of his mother had been published in other publications. The second photograph disclosed the child’s mother’s likeness: it did not disclose any private or personal information about her, and the Committee noted that similar photographs remained accessible to be viewed by the public on her Facebook account. In those circumstances, the Committee did not establish that the publication of these images represented an intrusion into the mother’s private life. The publication of these images did not represent a breach of Clause 2.

20. The reported information relating to the child’s older sibling was limited to his age and the fact that he had been celebrating his birthday at the time the tragedy occurred. The Committee noted that the article had not revealed his name or other personal details. The article had referenced the fact that the child had two other brothers, and no other details were published about them. In those circumstances the Committee did not consider that the publication of the article represented a failure to respect the child’s siblings’ private lives, or was an unnecessary intrusion into his time at school. There was no breach of Clause 2 or Clause 6.

21. The Committee noted the publication’s position that it had not simply relied upon claims made in other publications relating to the support given by the police to the mother, but had sought to confirm the veracity of this claim by contacting the police directly. The Committee were concerned that the publication were unable to provide a contemporaneous note which recorded this conversation. However, it was not in dispute that at the time of publication, it had been widely reported that the child’s mother was receiving support from the police. Given this, the Committee did not establish that it was a failure to take care over the accuracy of the report to report this claim, nor did it represent a significant inaccuracy. Notwithstanding this, the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s offer to publish a correction on this point.

22. The publication had published a quote from an unnamed family friend, which had contained support for the mother and an acknowledgment for her love for her sons, and had accidentally attributed these words to an unnamed family member. The Committee acknowledged the complainant’s concern, given that she did not believe that any member of the family had spoken to the media. However, while the publication’s error was regrettable, given the nature of the comments, and in circumstances where no private information was revealed by them, the Committee did not establish that the reference to the unnamed family member was a failure to take care, or a significant inaccuracy. There was no breach of Clause 1.

23. The Committee expressed significant concern about the publication’s handling of this complaint. The publication had failed to respond to the complainant during the referral period and had not provided any justification for its failure to do so, despite two requests by IPSO. The Committee also noted that there had been a delay, on the part of the publication in providing a response to the complaint during IPSO’s investigation. Given the publication’s failure to correspond directly with the complainant, the delays to the process, and the sensitivity of the complaint’s subject matter, the publication’s conduct during IPSO’s investigation was unacceptable. The Committee’s concerns have been drawn to the attention of IPSO’s Standards department.

Conclusion

24. The complaint was not upheld.

Date complaint received: 22/05/2018

Date complaint concluded: 27/09/2018