Ruling

14261-16 Rooney v Daily Mail

    • Date complaint received

      11th May 2017

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      6 Children

Decision of the Complaints Committee 14261-16 Rooney v Daily Mail

Summary of complaint

1. Wayne Rooney complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mail breached Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Rooney’s lad, 7, trains with City!”, published on 16 December 2016. The article was also published online with the headline “Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney is taking son Kai, age seven, for training sessions with neighbours Manchester City!”.

2. The complainant is, as is well known, a professional footballer who currently plays for and captains the Manchester United football team. The article reported that Kai Rooney, the complainant’s seven-year-old son, had attended training with the Manchester City Football Academy, having previously attended Manchester United’s development team. It said the complainant had watched training drills at the academy and that the child is “thought to have impressed the coaching staff”. It reported that a football coach had told the newspaper that “if a young boy is showing signs of exceptional talent, he may play for two or three clubs during this stage of his development”.   It reported that the rivalry between the two clubs has become “increasingly fierce in recent years as they compete to attract the best young talent”. It said that there had been major restructuring of Manchester United’s youth system and scouting network.

3. The complainant said that publication of the fact Kai had attended the Manchester City Academy was an unwarranted intrusion into his son’s privacy. He said that while he and his wife choose to publish photographs of their children, like millions of other parents, these were photographs that they judged to have been taken and shared in a loving context; these judgments should be taken by a child’s parents, not newspapers. The publication of information relating to his son’s attendance at the training academy created a risk of bullying at school, and placed the child under needless additional pressure in relation to his involvement in a highly competitive sporting arena. He said that it had resulted in increased attention from paparazzi, including photographers waiting outside of both Manchester United and Manchester City academies. It also raised potential child protection issues.

4. His son’s presence at the academy would have been observed by a few dozen other parents and coaching staff, this could not be equated with the wide publication of this information in the article under complaint. The complainant said that prior to publication, his representatives clearly set out his position that publication of the story would be intrusive, and unwarranted.

5. The complainant said that the football training was effectively part of his son’s schooling. As such, when the Code was taken in the full spirit, it was protected under the terms of Clause 6 (i). The complainant said that Clause 6 (v) of the Code specifically prevented the publication from justifying the intrusion into a child’s privacy on the basis of his own father’s fame. The complainant was concerned that following publication of the article on 16 December, the newspaper published an opinion piece the following day headlined “Why Wayne’s right to take his son to City”. The complainant said that while the article appeared to be generally supportive of his decision, its publication only served to exacerbate the intrusion caused by the article under complaint.

6. The newspaper denied that the article had revealed any details of this child’s private life, or involved his welfare. It said that the article simply reported the fact that the child attended the Manchester City Academy. It noted that it had previously been widely reported that the child had attended training with Manchester United’s academy, which had not led to a complaint of which it was aware, and that similar stories had been published in relation to the children of other football stars. The newspaper said that knowledge of the child’s attendance at Manchester City would not have been limited to the parents of other children attending, or coaching staff; it would be naïve to presume that other attendees or their parents would not have mentioned this to others. The newspaper said it did not reveal any intrusive details of Kai’s private life, or details which involved his welfare. It denied that football training formed part of Kai’s schooling, such as to engage the terms of Clause 6 (i).

7. The newspaper said that in considering whether the article was intrusive, account should be taken of the complainant’s and his wife’s (own extensive public disclosures of information about their son. It said that this included social media activity, including tweets and Instagram posts shared with a very large number of followers. It said that the complainant has 9.1 million Instagram followers and 14.1 million Twitter followers. It said that his wife has 475,000 Instagram followers and 1.24 million Twitter followers. It provided examples of this social media activity, which included images of him wearing Manchester United kit, and an image of him attending his first day of school.  It said that the complainant’s wife had spoken on the record about her son’s interest and ambition in football. It said that Kai had signed autographs for fans, and regularly appears as a mascot before games. The newspaper said that the effect of these disclosures was that Kai had his own public profile.

8. The newspaper said that the efforts of football clubs to develop local talent was a topic of controversy. It said that Manchester United’s youth policy has been eclipsed by that of its closest rival, Manchester City.  It was therefore in the public interest to report that the biggest Manchester United star had enrolled his son into the Manchester City’s Academy.

9. The complainant said that the Editors’ Code requires an exceptional public interest to override the interests of children under 16. It said that while the story may have been of interest to some members of the public, the newspaper had failed to demonstrate that publication of Kai’s attendance at the Manchester City Academy had met this threshold. The complainant said that it is the role of parents, not newspapers, to judge what information to disclose about their children. In any event, he noted that neither he nor his wife had made any specific comments about Kai’s football training with academies; nor had anyone representing him played any part I the placement, promotion, or publication of stories about his training.

Relevant Code provisions

10. 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.

The Public Interest

There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.

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.
  • There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.
  • The regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will or will become so.
  • 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.
  • An exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16.

Findings of the Committee

11. Regardless of the decision by the complainant and his wife to disclose certain information about their son to the public, they retained their rights, as his parents, to choose not to disclose certain other pieces of information about him. However, the large amount of information about Kai in the public domain formed part of the context in which the Committee assessed the effect of the newspaper’s disclosures.

12. Publication of information about a child may disrupt the child’s time at school, even where the information itself does not relate to the child’s schooling.   The Committee took very seriously the complainant’s concern that publication of this information created the risk that Kai would be bullied at school, and that it had resulted in increased attention from paparazzi photographers; these issues clearly engaged the terms of Clause 6 (i).

13. The Committee considered, therefore, whether the publication of the article posed an unnecessary intrusion into the complainant’s son’s time at school. In doing so, the Committee considered specifically whether the alleged intrusion arose out of a failure, or the part of the newspaper, to show appropriate respect for Kai’s private and school life.

14. The Committee noted the limited detail which was published: the article reported simply that Kai had attended Manchester City Academy. The minimal further comment was complimentary and focused on his perceived ability as a young player rather than any aspect of his personal development. It appeared to pre-empt potential criticism of Kai by explaining that it was not unusual for a young player to attend a number of academies.

15.  The article did not contain further details or speculation in relation to or other aspects of Kai’s life. In addition, the article did not seek to use Kai’s attendance as a criticism of his father or otherwise seek to embarrass the child or the family.

16. The Committee noted that amongst the information established in the public domain about the child, with the complainant’s consent, was a large quantity of information that connected Kai to his father’s career and specifically to Manchester United, including his involvement as a mascot for the club. The complainant’s wife had also discussed the child’s interest in football, albeit in very general terms. In the circumstances, the Committee did not consider that the child had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the bare fact of his attendance at the academy, and it did not find that the publication of this information constituted an intrusion into his time at school, such as to raise a breach of Clause 6.

17. The Committee considered next the further complaint that the publication had used the complainant’s fame as sole justification for publishing details of a child's private life. In the full circumstances, the Committee did not consider that this piece of information constituted a detail of the child’s private life. As such, there was no breach of the Code on this point.

18. As it had found no breach of Clause 6, the Committee was not required to consider formally the publication’s argument in relation to the public interest in favour of publication. Nevertheless, it took the opportunity to note that any public interest in the story fell far short of the standard required to the justify a breach of a child’s privacy.

Conclusions

19. The complaint was not upheld

Remedial Action Required

20. N/A

Date complaint received: 20/12/2016
Date decision issued: 19/04/2017