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Complainant Name:
Stewart Frazer

Clauses Noted: 3, 6

Publication: Edinburgh Evening News


Stewart Frazer complained to the Press Complaints Commission that an article headlined "A sign of the times?", published by the Edinburgh Evening News on 30 January 2013, breached Clause 3 (Privacy) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors' Code of Practice.

The complaint was not upheld.

The photograph showed the four year-old son of the complainant - a Heart of Midlothian FC supporter - at a football match at the football ground of Hibernian FC, holding a hand-written sign reading "Dad this place is a s***hole!! 5-1". It had been posted by the complainant on his Facebook page and subsequently shared by Hearts fans. The article - which named the complainant but not his son, whose face was pixelated in the image published in the newspaper but not in the original - observed that the image had "stirred up a social media storm" and quoted comments on the controversy from the leader of a parenting course.

The complainant said that the photograph had been published without his consent; he believed that his son was identifiable despite the use of pixelation. He explained that he had originally posted the photograph in the mistaken belief that privacy settings were in place on his Facebook page that would prevent circulation beyond his Facebook friends. He had been shocked that the image had then been shared within the social network - evidently because he had "liked" a fan page, enabling other fans to see his personal page - and published in the press two days later. He was concerned that the publication of the photograph could raise tensions among rival fan groups. He was further aggrieved that the article included criticism of his decision to publish the photograph and that he had not been afforded an opportunity to comment before publication.

The newspaper said that the photograph, which had been taken in a public place, had been widely viewed and discussed online before publication; on one Facebook page for Hearts supporters it had been "liked" by 890 people and "shared" by more than 160; each instance of sharing would have made the image visible to all of the sharer's Facebook friends. It had also appeared on fan websites outside of Facebook. The newspaper considered it had republished an image that the complainant had placed in the public domain and linked it to an ongoing public debate about the behaviour of football fans; it had not commented on the complainant's son in particular or on his welfare. On a Facebook fan page the complainant had identified himself as the child's father and engaged in public debate about his action. It had no reason to believe that the complainant considered the photograph to be private but in any case, proper care was taken to obscure the child's face in the published image. It had made efforts to contact the complainant prior to publication, including an approach via a Hearts supporters association, but they were unsuccessful; instead, the article had included comments by the complainant taken from Facebook defending his position. While no breach of the Code was accepted, the newspaper removed the online version of the article; offered an undertaking not to republish the image; proposed writing privately to the complainant; and offered to publish an apology in print and online for the upset caused by the coverage.

The complainant did not accept that the apology offered by the newspaper was sufficient and asked the Commission to consider the matter.

Not Upheld


Under Clause 6 (Children) of the Code, children under 16 must not be photographed on issues involving their welfare without the consent of a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult. While the Commission generally takes this requirement to apply to the publication of already existing photographs taken from other sources, in this instance the photograph had been distributed online before publication; indeed, the distribution of the picture online was the subject of the story. In such cases, the Code requires that the Commission has regard for "the extent to which material is already in the public domain".

The Commission accepted that the photograph raised issues that related to the complainant's son's welfare, albeit to a limited extent; this was emphasised by the comments made by the parenting expert, who expressed concern about the possible effect on him of the photograph online. There was, however, a countervailing public interest in publication, which turned on exactly the same point: the article's discussion of the potential risks for children and others of the free circulation of material through social networks. The Commission was persuaded that the publication of the photograph contributed directly to the public interest in this issue as a vivid example of the possible consequences, which could serve to inform other parents. The article had focused on this issue - rather than aiming to embarrass or ridicule the complainant's son - and the newspaper had taken the additional step of pixelating his face in order to mitigate the effect on him. In the full context - which included the presentation of the coverage; the public interest in the issue; the pixilation of the child's face; and the previous circulation of the image online - the Commission did not uphold the complaint under Clause 6.

The complainant had framed additional concerns under Clause 3 (Privacy), which states that individuals are entitled to respect for their private and family lives; he suggested that the coverage represented a failure to respect his family life. While the Commission noted that the complainant strongly disputed the criticism of his actions that had been aired in the article, it had ruled that there was a public interest in bringing this debate - in which the complainant had participated previously, on Facebook - to a wider audience. Taking the above points into account, the Commission was satisfied that the coverage did not demonstrate a failure to show due respect for the complainant's private and family life.

Relevant rulings:

Quigley v Zoo (2006)

A man v Farnham Herald (2012)

Date Published:

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