Ruling

21023-23 A woman v South Wales Argus

  • Complaint Summary

    A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the South Wales Argus breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), 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 Friday 22 September 2023.

    • Date complaint received

      22nd April 2024

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

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

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 21023-23 A woman v South Wales Argus


Summary of Complaint

1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the South Wales Argus breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), 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 Friday 22 September 2023.

2. The article was an interview with a man with a terminal illness, who had donated money to a local hospice which was providing him with palliative care; it appeared on a double-page spread across pages 18 and 19. It described the man as a “single dad” to a child; the child’s age and gender were also published. The child in question was under the age of 16. The article went on to include his child’s first name. It stated that the man, “who was forced to give up work as his condition worsened, believes making the donation to the hospice is the very least that he can do.”

3. It then included a quote from the man: “[I]t’s my [child], […] that I really feel for. They are] having a particularly difficult and tough time, dealing with all of this on top of the everyday challenges that face today’s [children].” The article closed with a statement from the hospice’s Chief Executive:”[W]e are so very grateful to [man’s name] for his tremendously generous donation. We wish him all the very best and are pleased that we are able to support him and his family.”

4. The article included two photographs of the man and his child. The captions to both photographs included the child’s name.

5. The article also appeared online in substantially the same form.

6. The complainant – the mother and custodial parent of the child referenced in the article – said the article breached Clause 6 because it had impacted her child’s time at school. She said her child had been approached by other students in school who had learnt of their father’s terminal illness after reading the article. The complainant said this had a profound impact on her child’s ability to attend school and maintain their education. This meant that they had had missed school on several occasions, which had negatively impacted their ability to study for their upcoming assessments.

7. The complainant also said the article breached Clause 6. She said the child’s father did not have parental responsibility for the child and the child had never lived with him, although was able to visit him for a few hours at a time. Neither she nor her child had been contacted before publication to ask for permission for her child to be referenced in the article. The complainant considered the images and name of her child were used to “garner sympathy”, and the article contained details about her child’s private family life.

8. The complainant also said the article breached Clause 4 because it was published without any consideration for its impact on her child. She described her child as vulnerable. She further said the article breached Clause 2; she considered it had intruded into her child’s private life by sharing private family details without consent.

9. She also said the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1, because it described her child’s father as a “single dad”. She said her child had never lived with their father and he did not have responsibility for her child’s schooling, health, or finances. She also disputed that the man had been “forced to give up work as his condition worsened”; she said he had stopped working for unrelated reasons. The complainant also said it was inaccurate to say the hospice had supported her child, as she said her child had only attended one meeting there.

10. The publication did not accept that the article breached Clause 6 (i) by intruding into the child’s schooling unnecessarily, as the article and photos had no connection to their education.

11. The publication did not accept it had breached Clause 6 (iii). It accepted that, during the interview, the child’s father had referenced matters relating to their welfare. However, it said that the article as a whole was not about their welfare. Therefore, it did not consider that the terms of Clause 6 (iii) – which make clear that its provisions apply only in matters relating to a child’s welfare – applied in this case. It said the article was positive and uplifting, and shared the story of a local father giving back to the local hospice that had cared for him during a terminal illness. It said it would be strange if the man was not able to refer to being a proud father in such a context.

12. The publication said it had not considered it necessary to make further enquiries regarding who the child’s custodial parent was, as in the press release the hospice referred to the man as a “single dad”. Nonetheless, it said that on the same day it learnt of the complainant’s concerns, it had amended the online article to remove the photographs of the child and their name, as well as the reference to the man being a ”single dad”.

13. The publication also did not accept its article contained any inaccuracies. It said the information came from the hospice, a trusted local source, and it was entitled to rely on it. However, as a gesture of goodwill it agreed to remove the reference to the man being a “single dad”.

14. It also said it did not believe it had intruded into the child’s private life in breach of Clause 2. It said that the child’s father had the right to talk about his life, illness, family life, and the support he had received from the hospice.

15. The publication also did not accept a breach of Clause 4. It said the father’s family were aware of his illness, and he had spoken freely to the hospice and was happy for his story to be shared to support and promote its work. It said the article simply reported a generous gesture from a dying man in good faith.

16. While the publication did not accept it had breached the Code, it said that its reporting was in the public interest and any potential breach was therefore mitigated. It said there was a broad public interest in being free to report on events in the local community without undue restriction. More specifically, it said there was a particular public interest in people understanding the role of hospices within society. It said the ability to humanise an article has an impact on how people relate to it and that including details about the man being a father and showing him with his child enabled people to better relate to the story and, in turn, the work of the hospice. It said stories will sometimes involve children of those the hospice cares for and including the children in the story is part of how it could help readers relate to the work of the hospice. It said the photographs of the man with his child would elicit attention and empathy from readers and that, without the photographs, the impact of the story, and by extension, the educational and charitable benefits to the hospice, were diminished.

17. The publication said it did not have a specific discussion about the public interest in the article under complaint, or the photographs which accompanied the article, prior to publication – it considered that it had parental consent for the publication of the photographs, via the child’s father, so did not believe that there would be the need to advance a public interest defence. However, it said that past conversations on similar topics would have been considered and the same logic applied to the article under complaint.

18. In response to the publication’s public interest argument, the complainant said she supported the hospice, and her complaint was not to detract from its work. Rather, her concern was the impact the article had on her vulnerable child, who she felt was exploited for the purposes of publicising the article.

Relevant Clause Provisions

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 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.

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 in 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

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

20. The publication had acted in good faith; it intended to publish a positive article, raising awareness of the work of the hospice. Nonetheless, it was still required to have regard for the terms of Clause 6.

21. The Committee did not accept the publication’s argument that it had not breached Clause 6 (i) because the article did not refer to the child’s education specifically. Clause 6 is intended to prevent unnecessary intrusion into the education of a school-age child; a child’s time at school can be intruded into by an article’s publication, regardless of whether it explicitly mentions their education. A prominent focus of the article – which, as the publication acknowledged, heightened the human interest in the story – was the fact the man had a child. The article featured images of the child, their name and included the father’s reference to the child having “a particularly difficult and tough time”. The Committee did not, therefore, consider that the child, and their experience of having a terminally ill parent, was incidental to the article. In such case, there was a clear potential impact on the child’s schooling which should have been considered prior to publication.

22. In this case, the Committee considered the impact on the child’s schooling was clear – news of the father’s illness had reached the child’s peers, which had been upsetting and ultimately impacted their attendance. It further noted that the publication had not taken any steps, prior to publication, to ensure it had the consent of the child’s custodial parent. Considering these factors, as well as the fact the publication was unable to demonstrate it had considered, or taken any measures to minimise, the impact the article might have on the child’s education, given the emphasis the article placed on them and their relationship with their father, the Committee found a breach of Clause 6.

23. The Committee then considered whether the publication of the photographs could be justified by an exceptional public interest, which was required to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16. The Committee acknowledged the publication’s argument that the images heightened the human-interest element of the story and could draw the attention of readers to the work of the hospice. However, in order for a public interest defence to be accepted by the Committee, editors must explain in detail how they reached the decision to breach the Code at the time, which, in practice, means producing an account of the evidence available and the discussions that took place before the breach of the Code was authorised. This is particularly important in cases involving children, where the public interest must be exceptionally high. Where the publication was unable to demonstrate how it reached the decision that the publication of this material was in the public interest pre-publication, the breach of Clause 6 (i) was upheld.

24. The Committee acknowledged the complainant’s concern that the newspaper did not seek permission from the custodial parent of her child before the publication of the photographs. It also noted that the article related to a matter pertaining to the child’s welfare: the illness of a parent. Regardless of whether the man had custodial responsibility for the child, he was clearly their parent, and, as indicated by the visitation rights, had some degree of responsibility for them. In this case, the Committee did not consider the wording of the Clause to be clear as to whether the father would be considered a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult. As such, the Committee considered that there was not a sufficient basis to uphold the complaint on these grounds, particularly in circumstances where the intrusion into the child’s schooling had already been addressed and adjudicated on by the application of the terms of Clause 6(i). However, the Committee noted its intention to contact the Editors’ Code Committee to make it aware of this particular case.

25. Turning to the complainant’s concerns raised under Clause 1, the Committee noted the article did not state the hospice had supported the complainant’s child specifically, but that the hospice’s Chief Executive had referred to the support given to “the family” more generally. It also noted that it was not in dispute that the child had met with individuals working at the hospice, and the article was broadly focused on their father’s experience with the hospice rather than their own. In such circumstances the Committee did not consider it inaccurate or misleading for the article to report that the hospice had supported “the family”, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

26. The Committee noted that the complainant was not acting on behalf of the terminally ill man in making her complaint. It had regard for this fact when considering an alleged inaccuracy regarding the man’s reasons for giving up work. For this reason, the Committee considered it was not able to consider this aspect of the complaint, as to make a finding on the alleged inaccuracy – the man’s reasons for given up work – the Committee would need his input, as he was best placed to know why he was no longer working. The Committee therefore made no finding on this point of complaint.

27. The Committee next considered whether it was inaccurate to refer to the man as a “single dad”. It was not in dispute that: the man was the child’s father; was not in a relationship with the child’s mother; and that there was a parental relationship between the child and their father involving visitation. Considering these factors, the Committee did not consider this description to be inaccurate. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

28. 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 child in the article was restricted to their name and their age, and images of their likeness. It was not in dispute this information had been shared by their father. Considering this, 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

29. The complaint was upheld under Clause 6.

Remedial action required

30. Having upheld the complaint under Clause 6, the Committee considered the remedial action required. Given the nature of the breach, the appropriate remedial action was the publication of an upheld adjudication.

31. The Committee considered the placement of this adjudication. The print article had featured on pages 18 and 19 of the newspaper. The Committee therefore required that the adjudication should be published in print on page 18 or further forward. The headline to the adjudication should make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint, reference the title of the newspaper, and refer to the complaint’s subject matter. The headline must be agreed with IPSO in advance.

32. The adjudication should also be published online, with a link to this adjudication (including the headline) being published on the top 50% of the publication’s homepage for 24 hours; it should then be archived in the usual way. If the newspaper intends to continue to publish the online article without amendment to remove the breach identified by the Committee, a link to the adjudication should also be published on the article, beneath the headline. If amended to remove the breach, a link to the adjudication should be published as a footnote correction with an explanation that the article had been amended following the IPSO ruling.

33. The terms of the adjudication for publication are as follows:

A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the South Wales Argus breached Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article published on Friday 22 September 2023. The complaint was upheld, and IPSO required the South Wales Argus to publish this adjudication to remedy the breach of the Editors’ Code.

The article was an interview with a man with a terminal illness, who had donated money to a local hospice which was providing him with palliative care. The article described the man as a “single dad” to a child; the child’s age and gender were also published, and the child in question was under the age of 16. The article went on to include his child’s first name.

The article included two photographs of the man and his child. The complainant – the mother and custodial parent of the child referenced in the article – said the article breached Clause 6 because it had impacted her child’s time at school. She said her child had been approached by other students in school who had learnt of their father’s terminal illness after reading the article. The complainant said this had a profound impact on their ability to attend school and maintain their education. It meant that they had missed school on several occasions, which had negatively impacted their ability to study for their upcoming assessments. The publication did not accept that the article breached Clause 6 (i) by intruding into the child’s schooling unnecessarily, as it said the article and photos had no connection to their education.

The Committee did not accept the publication’s argument that it had not breached Clause 6 (i) because the article did not refer to the child’s education specifically.

Clause 6 is intended to prevent unnecessary intrusion into the education of a school-age child; a child’s time at school can be intruded into by an article’s publication, regardless of whether it explicitly mentions their education. A prominent focus of the article which – as the publication acknowledged, heightened the human interest in the story – was the fact the man had a child. The article featured images of the child, their name, and included the father’s reference to the child having “a particularly difficult and tough time”. The Committee did not, therefore, consider that the child, and their experience of having a terminally ill parent, was incidental to the article. In such a case, there was a clear potential impact on the child’s schooling which should have been considered prior to publication. In this case, the Committee considered the impact on the child’s schooling was clear – news of the father’s illness had reached the child’s peers, which had been upsetting and ultimately impacted their attendance. It further noted that the publication had not taken any steps, prior to publication, to ensure it had the consent of the child’s custodial parent.

Considering these factors, as well as the fact the publication was unable to demonstrate it had considered, or taken any measures to minimise, the impact the article might have on the child’s education, given the emphasis the article placed on them and their relationship with their father, the Committee found a breach of Clause 6.

IPSO upheld the complaint as a breach of Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code and ordered the publication of this ruling.


Date complaint received: 02/10/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 02/04/2024