Ruling

21022-23 A woman v Western Mail

  • Complaint Summary

    A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Western Mail breached Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article published on 2 October 2023.

    • Date complaint received

      7th March 2024

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      2 Privacy, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock, 6 Children

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 21022-23 A woman v Western Mail


Summary of Complaint

1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Western Mail breached Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article published on 2 October 2023.

2. The article was an interview with a man with terminal liver failure, which was referred to in the article’s sub-headline. The sub-headline also stated the man wanted “to share the story of what happened to him in the hope someone can change their lifestyle before it’s too late”. The article described the man as “a 56-year-old single dad to his 14-year-old daughter” and gave the daughter’s first name. The article included the following quotes from the man: “I wish I'd stopped the alcohol,” and “I drank too much […] The alcohol that I drank for so many years will kill my liver soon, and that will put too much pressure on my other organs.”

3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format. This version of the article was published on 30 September 2023.

4. The complainant – the mother and custodial parent of the girl mentioned in the article – said Clause 6 had been breached. The complainant said the girl’s father did not have parental responsibility for the child, and that neither she nor her daughter had been contacted prior to the publication of the article to ask for permission for the girl to be mentioned. The complainant also said the article had breached Clause 6 because of the impact it had on her daughter’s time at school. The complainant said her daughter had been approached by other students in school who had heard about the situation via the article. She also noted that another publication had also published a similar article – prior to the article under complaint being published – and since the publication of this other article her daughter had missed school on several occasions.

5. The complainant also said Clause 2 and Clause 4 had been breached, for the same reasons outlined previously.

6. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 6. It said the main focus of the article was the man’s personal lifestyle change in light of his prognosis, and it had been published in order to help others in similar circumstances. It said the Clause did not prohibit parents mentioning their children, and including a brief reference to the first name and age of the girl in the article did not amount to intrusion into her time at school.

7. The publication also did not accept a breach of Clause 2 or Clause 4. It said the complainant’s concerns about not being contacted prior to the article’s publication did not engage the Clause, and no private nor intrusive information about the girl was included in the article, which focused on her father.

Relevant Clause Provisions

Clause 2 (Privacy)*

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental health, and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.

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.

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.

Findings of the Committee

8. The Committee wished to express its sympathies to the complainant and her daughter for the distressing circumstances surrounding this complaint.

9. Though the Committee appreciated the inclusion of her daughter’s name in the article without her permission was upsetting for the complainant, Clause 6 is clear that the consent of a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult is required in cases where children are interviewed or photographed on issues involving their welfare. The complainant’s daughter was not interviewed or photographed for the article – she was simply mentioned. Further, the article was focused on the father, rather than the daughter. The Committee was mindful of the balance between the right of the father to tell his story, and the daughter’s right not to experience unnecessary intrusion. Considering this balance, the Committee did not find the article’s limited reference to the complainant’s daughter constituted unnecessary intrusion into her daughter’s schooling. In any event, the complainant had mentioned the impact on her daughter’s schooling had begun prior to the publication of the article under complaint. Taking this into account, there was no breach of Clause 6.

10. Neither Clause 4 nor Clause 2 stipulate that contact must be made with the custodial parents of children who are mentioned in articles, even in circumstances which parents may consider private or intrusive into their children’s grief or shock. The information disclosed about the daughter in the article was restricted to her name and her age, and it was not in dispute this information had been shared by her father. The Committee did not consider including this information to be intrusive or insensitive. There was no breach of Clause 2 or Clause 4 on this point.

Conclusions

11. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

12. N/A


Date complaint received: 01/10/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 19/02/2024