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Complainant Name:
Mrs Lisa Carling

Clauses Noted: 6

Publication: Daily Mail

Complaint:

Mrs Lisa Carling of Ockley, Surrey, complained that an article headlined “Carling stole my family” published in the Daily Mail on 4 March 2000 intruded into the privacy of her son and daughter in breach of Clause 6 (Children) of the Code of Practice.

The complaint was not upheld.

The article took the form of an interview with the complainant’s ex-husband. Amongst other matters, it detailed his attempt to gain greater access to his two children who now live with the complainant and her new husband, the ex-England rugby captain Will Carling.

The complainant regarded the article as a salacious and crude exploitation of her children as a weapon to attack her new husband, with no public interest. The major effect of the article had been to “thrust the glare of publicity” into the lives of the complainant’s two children, simply because of the fame of their stepfather.

Since publication of the article, the complainant had gained an injunction handed down from the Family Division of the High Court which restrained her ex-husband from discussing publicly any matters relating to the lives, well-being or custody arrangements of her children.

The complainant contended that the references in the article to details and notes of private custody hearings and the reporting of intimate notes and distressing conversations between the children and their father had the effect of “laying them both open to widespread teasing and humiliation”.

The newspaper vigorously defended the publication of its interview. It said that the complainant’s former husband had spoken freely of his concerns for his children and the deteriorating relationship that he has had with them since the breakdown of his marriage. As their father, he had an equal right to express his concerns and to give an insight into the situation which faces thousands of other fathers following a divorce.

Although the newspaper regretted any distress or hurt the article may have caused the children, the relationship of his former wife with Mr Carling and their subsequent marriage were high profile and well publicised at the time they happened. The children had previously been named in national newspapers in the context of the marital problems that both the complainant and Mr Carling had experienced. The complainant and Mr Carling had themselves sought publicity and had placed the children in the public domain by speaking to the Daily Mail about them. The complainant had given an in-depth interview to the Daily Mail in July 1999 in which she revealed her pregnancy before marriage, made reference to how her children were teased at school during the marriage break-up, detailed the visiting arrangements for the children and provided photographs of them for publication. The newspaper contended that these were all deeply personal matters involving the welfare of the children. At no time had the newspaper received any complaint from Mrs Carling expressing the view that her children should not be mentioned.

Furthermore, during the investigation of the complaint further articles appeared in the Sun in which Mr Carling spoke about the welfare of his own son and the custody battle he was having with the boy’s mother. The newspaper suggested that the complainant and Mr Carling were ‘not in a position where they can turn publicity on and off or dictate that they are the only ones who have a right to speak about the children’.

The newspaper’s own article had not been accompanied by any photographs of the children, although these had been previously placed in the public domain by the complainant.

The complainant believed there to be a vast difference between the manner in which she had spoken to the newspaper compared to the subsequent interview with her ex-husband published by the same newspaper. Prior to the complainant’s own interview with the newspaper in July 1999, the only reference made to the children had been in straight news reports of her wedding to Mr Carling. She denied that she had placed pictures of the children in the public domain, although she said that she had allowed the Daily Mail to use a picture of Mr Carling, herself and the children in order to present a happier face to the public than that shown by a snatched picture which had previously been published by another newspaper. She also said that the photographs that had appeared in The Sun were taken purely by chance and the comments given by Mr Carling were simply confirmation given of facts already known to the newspaper.

Decision:
Not Upheld

Adjudication:

The Commission, in considering this case, had two fundamental principles to bear in mind. First, the Commission has previously made clear that even when individuals do put matters concerning the private lives of their families in the public domain the press cannot reasonably justify thereafter publishing articles on any subject concerning them. The Commission therefore considered whether the material concerning the children in the article was proportional to that already placed in the public domain. The Commission reviewed the material submitted by the newspaper, and in particular the interview given by the complainant to the Daily Mail in July of 1999. Specifically, the Commission noted that the complainant had spoken about her son’s emotional character, quoted his reaction to her sleeping arrangements with her then boyfriend, detailed the custody arrangements as they then stood and detailed both children's concerns following the break-up of their parents’ marriage. The Commission recognised that these could be viewed as matters of an intensely personal and private nature for the children. The Commission further noted that the complainant had supplied a photograph of the children which had been published by the newspaper.

Second, the Commission must also have regard to freedom of expression and the public’s right to be informed of matters of public interest. This may include cases where one side in a relationship, whether extant or terminated, details their own account of events or matters related to them, including their families. The Commission noted that the complainant had freely given her own account of the marriage break-up and its resultant effect on the children and therefore considered that, under the terms of the Code, her ex-husband was free to express his views on the matter. It was clear that the complainant herself had put matters relating to her children into the public domain and in the Commission’s view the interview with her former husband was in proportion to that previously published material. The injunction sought by the complainant was subsequent to the publication of the article and any breaches of it would not be a matter for the Commission.

Report:
50



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