Resolution Statement 09386-19 Brooks v

    • Date complaint received

      6th August 2020

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 6 Children

Resolution Statement 09386-19 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 "Parents outraged by head boy and girl’s ‘racy’ speech ‘humiliating’ classmates”, published on 21 June 2019.

2. The article reported that parents were left outraged following a speech delivered by the head boy and head girl of a school during a leavers’ day celebration. It stated that according to reports it left some parents “horrified”, “shocked” and “uncomfortable” by its content, which they claimed humiliated fellow students. The article reported that “the speech reportedly criticised classmates, singled others out for not performing well, joked about cross-dressing and alluded to certain pupils having sex on a school trip”. The article featured comments given to another publication from two parents who were in attendance, who criticised the speech and accused the pupils of bullying. One of the parents said her younger children had attended and that she “didn’t expect to hear that sort of language at a school event”. The article reported that the parents had called for an apology. The article featured a comment from the local council which said “the school is currently dealing with this in line with the council’s complaints procedures. In the meantime, we would apologise for any upset that may have been caused by the speech.”

3. The complainant, who attended the event, said that the article gave an inaccurate account of the speech her son, then 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 any more than one younger child attended the event, but in any event 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 and 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 who the two pupils were 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.

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

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

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

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

11. 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: 06/12/19

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 16/06/20