Ruling

16646-17 A Man v South Wales Evening Post

    • Date complaint received

      12th December 2017

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination, 2 Privacy, 6 Children

Decision of the Complaints Committee 16646-17 A Man v South Wales Evening Post

Summary of Complaint

1. A man complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the South Wales Evening Post breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 6 (Children) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Safety alert after youth stole life ring” published on 3 July 2017. The article also appeared online headlined “A teenager took a life-ring from a lifeboat station, but it was taken off him and returned minutes later” published on 30 June 2017.

2. The article reported that an unnamed boy, accompanied by two friends, had removed a life ring from its post at a lifeboat station. The article reported that the life ring had been returned fifteen minutes later by a member of the public, but that the lifeboat crew had issued a safety warning on Facebook urging the public not to remove emergency items and reiterating the importance of a life ring if a member of the public gets into difficulties in the water. The article also included a quotation from a member of the lifeboat crew stating that the parent of the child responsible had spoken to him, and had made him aware that his son had a medical condition, which was named in the article. The article stated that, after the incident, the family had been invited to the lifeboat station to learn about the work of the organisation. The article was illustrated with a still taken from CCTV footage of the boy with the life ring, with his face obscured. The online article was substantially the same as the print version.

3. The complainant, the father of the child referred to in the article, said that the article was inaccurate, as it implied that the life ring had been stolen, when in fact it had been removed from its post and thrown on to the road, only a few feet from the post.

4. The complainant said that the article had intruded into his son’s privacy. His son was well known in the local community and his distinctive physical appearance and clothing meant he could be easily identified from the image, despite the pixilation of his face. The complainant was also concerned that his son’s medical condition had been named in the article. He said he had provided this information to the lifeboat volunteer confidentially and in the strictest confidence. He said that the publication of the article, and specifically the reference to the condition, had had a detrimental effect on his son’s health.

5. The complainant also said that the article discriminated against his son, as the newspaper had pictures of all three young people involved in the incident, but chose only to publish the photograph of his son, due to his medical condition. He also said that the reference to his son’s medical condition was discriminatory, as it was not genuinely relevant to the story.

6. The newspaper did not accept that it had breached the Code. The newspaper said there was a public interest in publishing the article, as it highlighted antisocial behaviour and the potentially serious consequences it could have for public safety. It said that information about the incident and the photographs included in the article had been shared publicly by the lifeboat station in a Facebook post, appealing for information about the identity of those involved in the incident.

7. The newspaper did not accept that the complainant’s son was identifiable from the coverage, as his face was sufficiently obscured and he was not named in the article. It said that it had not known the name of the young person pictured, and so it could not have contacted his parents for consent prior to publication. Furthermore, it could not have known that the features shown in the image – such as the boy’s clothing – were distinctive.

8. The newspaper said that it had contacted the lifeboat station to discuss the incident after reading the post on Facebook. It said that during this conversation the representative had made reference to the child’s medical condition, and explained he had been contacted by the child’s father following the incident. The editorial team decided to publish the reference to the child’s medical condition as they believed it explained to the reader that this was not a deliberate act of vandalism, but a genuine misunderstanding. It denied that any prejudiced or pejorative reference had been made to the complainant’s son.

9. While it did not consider that it had breached the Code, as a gesture of goodwill, the newspaper removed the article from its website and offered to write the complainant a private letter of apology for the upset that had been caused.

Relevant Code Provisions

10. 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 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.

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.

Clause 12 (Discrimination)

i. The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

ii. Details of an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

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 I 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

10. While the child’s father had mentioned his son’s medical condition to a member of the lifeboat crew, the newspaper had not sought or obtained consent to publish this detail. The newspaper had published this information alongside a picture of the child which, despite pixilation, included detail by which he could have readily been identified within the small local community, thus informing them of his medical condition. The Committee noted the newspaper’s position that it could not have known that the image included features specific to the child which meant that he could be identified; however, it considered that the newspaper should have given careful consideration to whether there was sufficient justification under the Code for including details about the child’s medical condition in the event that the child was identifiable from the information published.

11. The child had a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding his medical information, which was sensitive in nature, and this expectation was heightened due to his age. In publishing this information, without consent, the newspaper had intruded into the child’s private life and into his time at school.

12. As children are given special protection under the Code, the newspaper was required to demonstrate that an exceptional public interest was served by publishing this private information about the child.

13. The Committee acknowledged that there was a public interest in reporting the serious dangers posed by the removal of life saving equipment, such as the life ring, from the life boat station. However, the public interest served by publishing the story did not outweigh the child’s reasonable expectation that details of his medical condition, which is a particularly private class of information, would not be published without consent.

14. The Committee also noted that the newspaper had reported the child’s medical condition on the basis that it provided context for his actions, and some mitigation. However, the fact that this detail provided an explanation for the child’s involvement in the incident also did not justify disclosing private information about him without consent. The complaint was upheld under Clause 2 and Clause 6.

15. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern that the newspaper had published his child’s photograph, but not photographs of the other children involved in the incident. However, the selection of material for publication is a matter of editorial discretion; focusing on this child’s involvement in the incident did not represent discrimination in breach of Clause 12. Furthermore, the Committee was satisfied that the reference to the child’s medical condition had not been included in a  pejorative or prejudicial manner,  as it had been included by the newspaper to explain the circumstances of the incident. Whilst the publication of details of the child’s medical condition had intruded into the child’s privacy, the reference in the context of the story did not breach Clause 12.  The complaint under Clause 12 was not upheld.

16. The Committee did not consider that it was inaccurate for the newspaper to have reported that the life ring had been “stolen”. The article made clear that it had been taken from the life boat station by three boys and that it had been returned by a member of the public. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1.

Conclusion

17. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial action

18. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required.

19. Where the Committee has upheld a complaint as a breach of Clause 2 and Clause 6, the appropriate remedial action is the publication of an adjudication.

20. The Committee noted that there had been a reference to the article on the front page of the newspaper. However, the breach of the Code had appeared in the main article, on page four. As such, the adjudication should also be published on page four, or further forward.

21. The wording of the headline to the adjudication should be agreed with IPSO in advance, or in the absence of agreement, as determined by the Complaints Committee. It should refer to IPSO, include the title of the newspaper, make clear that the complaint was upheld, and refer to the subject matter. The placement on the page, and the prominence, including font size, of the adjudication must also be agreed with IPSO in advance.

22. The adjudication should also be published on the newspaper’s website, with a link to the full adjudication appearing on the top half of the homepage for 24 hours; it should then be archived in the usual way.

23. The terms of the adjudication to be published are as follows:

Following the publication of an article headlined “Safety alert after youth stole life ring” on 3 July 2017, a man complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the South Wales Evening Post breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The complaint was upheld, and IPSO required the South Wales Evening Post to publish this adjudication.

The article reported that a boy, accompanied by two friends, had removed a life ring from its post at a lifeboat station. The article included a photograph of the boy with his face obscured, and a quotation from a member of the lifeboat crew stating that the parent of the child responsible had said that his son had a medical condition, which was named in the article.

The complainant said that the article had intruded into his son’s private life and into his time at school. His son was well known in the local community and he could be easily identified from the image, despite the pixilation of his face. The reference to his medical condition had had a detrimental effect on his son’s health.

The newspaper said there was a public interest in publishing the article as it highlighted the potentially serious consequences the incident could have for public safety.

It did not accept that the complainant’s son was identifiable from the image. It said that it had not known the name of the young person pictured, and so it could not have contacted his parents for consent prior to publication. A representative from the lifeboat station had made reference to the child’s medical condition. It had decided to publish the reference as it believed it explained to the reader that this was not a deliberate act of vandalism, but a genuine misunderstanding.

While the child’s father had mentioned his son’s medical condition to a member of the lifeboat crew, the newspaper had not sought or obtained consent to publish this detail. The newspaper had published this information alongside a picture of the child which, despite pixilation, included detail by which he could have readily been identified within the small local community, thus informing them of his medical condition. The child had a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding this medical information, which was sensitive in nature, and this expectation was heightened due to his age. In publishing this information, without consent, the newspaper had intruded into the child’s private life and into his time at school.

The public interest in publishing the story generally did not justify reporting private medical information about the child without consent. The complaint was upheld under Clause 2 and Clause 6.

Date complaint received: 4 July 2017
Date complaint concluded: 17 October 2017