Clauses Noted: 3, 6
Publication: The Daily Telegraph
A woman complained through solicitors that material contained in an article headlined ďThe lost childrenĒ published in The Daily Telegraph on 17 March 2001 intruded into her young sonís privacy in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) and 6 (Children) of the Code of Practice.
The complaint was not upheld.
The article recounted the experiences of a journalist from the newspaper, who had spent a long weekend visiting a childrenís care home in Hampshire. It included descriptions of some of the children at the home and details of their individual circumstances as well of photos of some of the residents and care workers. The complainant said that details of her young sonís situation had been included in the article without permission and that photos of him had been taken and published without her consent or that of anybody at the home.
The newspaper said that the complainantís son had not been interviewed but that some of the details regarding his personal situation had been described by a member of staff as part of a briefing about typical cases. Since he spent two days at the home the journalist naturally became aware of information that was current at the time and that is how certain other details came to be incorporated into ĎChristopherís storyí. The newspaper emphasised that it had not named the complainantís son or the care home. With regard to the photographs the newspaper said that it had the permission of the home manager to take pictures of the complainantís son provided that he was not identifiable in any published images, as, indeed, he was not.
The complainantís solicitors provided contemporaneous case notes made by members of staff at the home, which, they claimed, showed that those working at the home had understood that they would be able to approve the article prior to publication. The newspaper disputed this reading of the notes and suggested that they demonstrated that staff at the home had been aware that photos were taken and were happy about the situation. The fact remained that the complainantís son was not clearly identifiable from the article.
The complainantís solicitors provided a letter from the manager of the home, in which she claimed that she had informed the newspaperís journalists that consent had not been provided for the complainantís son to be interviewed or photographed. Indeed, she emphasised these requirements when she observed one of the journalists taking a picture of the child.
The newspaper suggested that the home managerís recollection as expressed in her letter did not square with the recollections of staff as set out in the contemporaneous notes provided by the complainantís solicitors. The newspaper said that at no point had its staff been told that the complainantís son could not be photographed, only that his identity must be disguised, as indeed it was. Its journalists were accompanied at all times inside the care home by members of staff.
Clause 6 of the Code says that journalists must not interview or photograph children under the age of 16 on subjects involving the welfare of the child in the absence of, or without the consent of, a parent or other adult who is responsible for the child. In this case, it appeared that there was a major discrepancy between the recollections of the journalists involved and the manager of the home as to whether the latter had told the former that they were not to photograph the complainantís son. While the Commission felt a great deal of sympathy for the complainant since her wishes did not seem to have been followed it could not conclude, without firm evidence, that the journalists had been aware of her requirements. The Commission did not, therefore, make a finding on this particular point.
However, the Commission did not consider that the simple act of taking photographs in the circumstances outlined in this case jeopardised the complainantís son welfare, which is what Clause 6 is designed to protect. Since there had clearly been no interview of the complainantís son the Commission concluded that the actions of the journalists had not breached Clause 6 of the Code.
As to the material that was published the Commission concluded that the complainantís son would not be identifiable to anybody unless they were already aware of his very specific situation. His name, and the name of the home had been altered, the story of the fictional ĎChristopherí was not identical to his and none of the published photos showed his face.
The Commission has made clear before (Price v The Observer - Report 49) that the purpose of Clause 6 of the Code is to protect the welfare of children under the age of 16 - and that means not embarrassing them, interrupting their schooling or damaging their welfare in some other way. In these circumstances the article would not, in the Commissionís view, have had such an impact.
The Commission emphasised that it will continue to protect the interests of the vulnerable, especially children, but that in these very specific circumstances there had been no breach of the Code.
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