Clauses Noted: 10
Publication: Sunday World
Madden & Finucane, solicitors of Belfast, complained on behalf of their client, Ms Anne Dobbin that a photograph of her son was obtained through misrepresentation in breach of Clause 11 (Misrepresentation) of the Code of Practice. The photograph was used to illustrate a comment column in the Sunday World on 20 July 1997 headlined "We're not out of the woods yet" about the difficulties the peace process faced following the new IRA ceasefire in summer 1997. The photograph was captioned "New Beginning: the cease-fire announcement is welcome", and showed the complainant's son (unnamed), waving and smiling in front of a "FREE IRELAND" mural. The complainant said she had allowed the photograph to be taken on the understanding that it was to be used in connection with the West Belfast Festival.
The editor explained that a freelance photographer had taken the picture while working on a shift for the Press Association. The PA's caption named the boy, and described him as jumping for joy at the commencement of an IRA ceasefire. The photographer said he had made it clear to the complainant and her son that he had wanted a picture for use in the context of peace being brokered for, and breaking out, in Northern Ireland, and the complainant had given her permission. The editor considered that as the column promoted the peace process, which was in the public interest, then the photograph had been used properly.
The Commission regretted the extreme delay on the part of both the editor and the complainant's solicitors in dealing with correspondence.
In considering the complaint of misrepresentation, the Commission noted that the photograph had clearly been used to illustrate a matter of some public interest. Both the complainant and the newspaper had entirely different recollections of the circumstances under which the picture had been taken. As a result, the Commission was not in a position to make a finding under the Code. That said, the Commission wished to underline the principle on which the Code is based - that editors are responsible for ensuring that its provisions are adhered to not only by their own staff, but by those who contribute to their publications as freelancers as well.
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