Resolution Statement 09150-19 Brooks v

    • Date complaint received

      6th August 2020

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 6 Children

Resolution Statement 09150-19 Brooks v

Summary of complaint

1. Claire Brooks, on behalf of her son, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article headlined "Perth Academy pupils shamed by head pupils”, published on 21 June 2019.

2. The article reported that there had been calls from parents for the head boy and girl of a school to apologise for “bullying” their classmates during a leavers’ day speech. It reported that parents said they were “shocked” and “disgusted” by the speech’s content, which they claimed humiliated fellow students. The article featured comments from two parents who were in attendance, with one parent claiming that she had been accompanied by her younger children, who witnessed the speech and who were subjected to language they should not have heard at a school event. The article reported that a spokesperson for the school had apologised for the incident.

3. The complainant, who attended the event, said that the article gave an inaccurate account of the speech her son, an S6 pupil, had given at the leavers’ event at his school. She said that the speech did not humiliate, bully, or ruin the lives of pupils as alleged; the content focused on their friends who had consented to their inclusion and the speech was well-received. She said that the article presented a one-sided and biased account based solely on the view of the two parents, whom she alleged were related. The complainant disputed that there was more than one younger child present at the event but said that, in any case, the content was not unsuitable for a younger audience. She noted that there were no swear or sexual words in the speech and that the jokes were almost entirely innuendo.

4. The complainant said that the article intruded into her son’s time at school in breach of Clause 6: its publication had caused her son stress and risked damaging his reputation. The complainant said that her son still had school duties to undertake at the time of publication; the speech was given on 17 June and his final duties were to take place on 27 June. He was therefore still a pupil of the school until the end of the academic session; whether his academic studies were completed was irrelevant. The complainant noted that learning was not limited to academic qualifications, and emphasised that school provides an environment for pupils to practise for the world of work and life after education; pupils should be allowed to try and fail free from the scrutiny of newspapers in the event they misjudge a situation. The complainant also said that, due to the size of their hometown, everyone would have known the identity of the two pupils and as a result her son was identifiable in the article.

5. The publication denied that the article was inaccurate. It said that all the quotes and opinions on the speech were clearly attributed to the parents referenced in the article and the article did not present their reactions to the speech as fact. It said that the point regarding younger people attending was clearly presented as a direct quote from one of the parents interviewed and the publication provided a transcript of this interview. The publication denied that the article had given an inaccurate or misleading account of the events and said that it had contacted the local council who confirmed that a complaint had been received by the school regarding the appropriateness of the content of the speech, that the school was dealing with the complaint, and that it had apologised for any upset caused. Nonetheless, the publication noted that it had published a second article which documented the support her son had received from fellow students.

6. The publication denied a breach of Clause 6. It said that the ceremony at which the speech was given marked the end of the pupils’ time at school and therefore the article could have had no impact on the complainant’s son’s academic studies; any remaining duties were only ceremonial. The publication also emphasised that the information in the article originated solely from the parents interviewed, and that it did not contact the complainant’s son in any capacity as to cause intrusion.

Relevant Code Provisions

7. 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 6 (Children)*

i) All pupils should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.

Mediated outcome

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

10. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code but offered to remove the article as a gesture of goodwill.

11. The complainant said she was content to resolve the complaint on this basis.

12. 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: 15/11/19

Date complaint concluded: 16/06/20