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Complainant Name:
A man

Clauses Noted: 6

Publication: Hamilton Advertiser

Complaint:

A man complained to the Press Complaints Commission that an article headlined "Public foots 27k taxi bill for granddaughter of MSP", published in the Hamilton Advertiser on 11 August 2011, had intruded into his daughter's time at school and had included a photograph of her without consent in breach of Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors' Code of Practice.

The complaint was upheld.

The article reported that North Lanarkshire Council was paying 27,000 in taxi fares over three years to take the thirteen-year-old granddaughter of Motherwell and Wishaw MSP John Pentland to a dance school in Glasgow. The complainant was the father of the child. He said that - while his daughter had not been named in the council report - the article had named and identified her, including through the republication of a photograph of his family celebrating Mr Pentland's election in May. While the complainant had provided comment for the article, he had not given consent for the publication of his daughter's photograph in this context. The publication of the article, he said, had caused distress to his daughter: she had suffered unpleasant comments at school and on social networking sites.

The newspaper said that its enquiries had been conducted in the public interest: it was reasonable to investigate whether a taxi costing about 9,000 per year was the best use of taxpayers' money at a time of increased service cuts, when public transport into Glasgow was readily available. The council report had revealed the street in which the complainant's daughter lived, which was a matter of public record. The complainant had discussed the situation with its reporter willingly over the telephone. As such, the newspaper did not consider that there was any issue with reporting the child's identity. The photograph of the child had been taken with the consent of her parents when her grandfather had been elected to the Scottish Parliament, and therefore existed within the public domain.

The complainant said he had not been happy to speak to the newspaper, but felt he had had no choice: the newspaper had contacted him and his wife on several occasions and had indicated that the story would be published with or without his co-operation. In his view, the public interest could have been served without his daughter being named or pictured.

The newspaper said that - while it stood by the publication of the story - it would be happy to write a private letter of apology to the complainant's family expressing regret that the article had caused upset. It also offered to remove the photograph from its website and confirm that it would not publish the child's name or photograph in the future. The complainant did not consider that such action adequately addressed the situation, asking for a public apology.

Decision:
Upheld

Adjudication:

There was clearly a legitimate public interest in reporting on how taxpayers' money was being spent by the council, especially in a time of economic austerity. The issue for the Commission was whether the newspaper had struck an appropriate balance between the public's right to be made aware of the facts and the right of the complainant's daughter to complete her time at school without unnecessary intrusion.

There were some arguments in the newspaper's favour here. First, the complainant had spoken (albeit, in his view, unwillingly) to the newspaper prior to publication and discussed the circumstances of the payments. Second, the photograph had previously appeared with consent at the time of the MSP's election. Clearly, the newspaper had sought to take into account the requirements of the Code when reaching its decision.

In these circumstances, the question for the Commission was whether the combination of naming and photographing the complainant's child constituted an "unnecessary intrusion" under the terms of Clause 6 (Children) of the Code. It judged that it did. The Commission did not consider that the intrusion, caused by the child specifically being named and photographed in the newspaper, was necessary in the circumstances. The attention drawn to the complainant's daughter, given the detail in the story, had the potential to cause her embarrassment at school.

While there was a genuine public interest in the story itself, in the Commission's view, this could have been served without the identity of the child being highlighted. It was noticeable that other newspapers, for example, had decided not to identify the child in the circumstances, or had sought to minimise the possibility of identification.

The Code requires an exceptional public interest in cases involving children, and the Commission did not consider that this high requirement had been met on this occasion. While the Commission welcomed the newspaper's offers - including a private letter of apology and the removal of the photograph from its website - the complaint was upheld under Clause 6.

Relevant rulings
Kelly v Daily Mirror, Report 74
Levene v The Sunday Times, 2010

Date Published:
03/11/2011



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