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Complainant Name:
Ms M Rudland, Mr R Davison, Mr E Vans

Clauses Noted: 6

Publication: Sunday Express


Ms M Rudland of the Girls' Schools Association, Mr R Davison of the Independent Schools Information Service and Mr A Evans of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference complained that a request in the Sunday Express of 28 April 1996 for those "at school and interested in journalism" to contact them as schools correspondents, was in breach of Clause 12(Interviewing or photographing children) of the Code of Practice.

Children were invited to contact a telephone number. This was the newspaper's "story line" where callers were asked to leave details of the story that they wished to be investigated on an answering machine, after which the newspaper would contact them.

The complainants expressed concern that the notice - ostensibly an invitation to those schoolchildren interested in journalism to contribute to the newspaper - was in fact an invitation to become a confidential informant. They believed that this was irresponsible and constituted an "approach" to schoolchildren in breach of Clause 12(ii) of the Code. The Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference also expressed concern that the principle of Clause 7(i)Misrepresentation might have been infringed in this respect.

The editor assured the Commission that she had carefully considered the newspaper's position with regard to Clause 12 of the Code, which requires that the press do not harass, approach or photograph children at school without the permission of the relevant authorities. The editor said that this was not in any way their intent; they were merely seeking information which may help proper investigative journalism.

Not Upheld


The Commission was not made aware of any specific cases in which reporters had contacted schoolchildren via the "story line" to pursue them in a way which might breach the Code and recognises that children are able to contact newspapers with information of their own volition and indeed it may be in the public interest for them to do so. In the circumstances, it did not believe that the notice constituted an approach "while at school without the permission of the school authorities", as proscribed in Clause 12(ii) of the Code of Practice.

In the Commission's view, if a newspaper returned a call made by a school child in response to the notice there would be a danger of a breach of the Code. The Commission has therefore asked the editor to review her newspaper's procedures to make particularly certain that neither Clause 7 nor Clause 12 could be breached as a result of the notice.

While the complaints were not upheld for the reasons given above the Commission believes that this type of notice is likely to lead to breaches of Clause 7 and Clause 12 of the Code.


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