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Complainant Name:
Ms J King

Clauses Noted: 3

Publication: Reading Post


Ms J King of Reading complained that a report in the Reading Evening Post on 13 September 1996, describing how her 11 year old son had been admitted to hospital with meningitis, named him in breach of Clause 4 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice. She supplied a copy of a letter his school sent to parents which explained that "a boy in Year Seven" had been admitted to hospital with meningitis and which gave public health department guidance. The school informed the complainant that prior to publication a reporter telephoned, already aware of her son's name, age and address.

The editor responded that the report was in the public interest. She was of the view that as meningitis is a notifiable disease and the complainant's son was attending a local school, identifying him outweighed any concerns of privacy: other parents had a right to know his name in order to ascertain whether their own children had been in contact with him. However, with the family's interests in mind, the newspaper had taken care not to sensationalise the story and the editor did not consider the boy had been stigmatised.



The Commission agreed with the complainant that an individual's state of health was a private matter. However, Clause 18 (ii) of the Code creates an exception to this rule where the protection of public health and safety is concerned. In this case regard was given to the fact that meningitis is a notifiable disease and that there was no element of sensationalism in the short, factual report. However, while the Commission had sympathy with the newspaper's wish to keep its readers properly informed, it nevertheless considered that in the light of the action taken by the school, publication of the boy's name was not essential for the protection of public health. In reaching its conclusion the Commission took into account that the school was named and that concerned parents unconnected with the school could have made further enquiries.

The complaint was therefore upheld, but in view of the sensitive handling of the matter the Commission decided on this occasion not to censure the newspaper.


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