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Complainant Name:
Mr C Black

Clauses Noted: 3, 6, 8

Publication: Bedfordshire on Sunday


Mr C Black, Chairman of Governors of Hastingsbury School and Community College, Kempston, Bedford complained that names of pupils were published on 15 and 22 March 1998 in Bedfordshire on Sunday. He also complained that prior to this one of the pupils had been approached by a reporter while in hospital, and that other pupils had been approached when newspaper representatives drove to the school, all in breach of Clauses 3 (Privacy), 6 (Children) and 9 (Hospitals) of the Code of Practice.

An article on 15 March headlined "Bullied school girls in pills suicide pact" named three pupils who had overdosed, aged fourteen and fifteen. The complainant said that they had not wished to talk to the newspaper and had been promised that the girls would not be identified. Publication of the names had caused distress, and one of the mothers had written to the editor to complain, but her daughter's name was published again the following week in a comment piece. The same girl had also been approached while in hospital, the reporter having failed to identify himself to staff to obtain permission to enter the ward. Groups of children had been approached outside the school, one child alleging he was given cigarettes in exchange for information.

The editor did not consider that he was obliged to obtain consent to identify a minor, apart from those involved in sex cases. His staff were trained to obtain facts sensibly, which might involve lawful approaches to children, but not interviews without parental consent. In this case, the inquiries had concerned a legitimate story about bullying: parents of two girls had spoken to the reporter at some length, so there was tacit consent to name their daughters. The reporter had first come to know about the case when visiting the child of a friend in hospital - coincidentally in the same ward as one of the girls. He had shown proper restraint by not talking to her at length when they were introduced, but gave her a business card for her parents. Approaches to other pupils were made outside school grounds during the lunch break. On the first occasion a group of girls identified themselves as being over sixteen. On the second occasion the newspaper representatives were surrounded by a large, clamouring crowd of pupils. Only background information was sought: no interviews took place, no payments were made; cigarettes were snatched from the car during the clamour.



Clauses 6 and 9 of the Code, buttressed by the more general provisions of Clause 3, are quite clear, and it is important that their terms are strictly adhered to. The Code is there, among other things, to protect the vulnerable - and children and the sick are the principle recipients of that protection.

In this case it was plain to the Commission that the terms of the Code had not been followed to the letter. Whether or not approaches to the children were informal or formal, they should not have been taking place without the permission of the school authorities - which was not sought. Similarly, a journalist making inquiries at a hospital - even if they were the result of a chance encounter - should have identified himself to the responsible authorities before making contact with somebody receiving treatment.

The complaint was upheld.


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