PCC upholds complaints against two Scottish titles under Clause 6 of the Editors’ Code
The Press Complaints Commission has ruled that the Wishaw Press and the Hamilton Advertiser breached Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors' Code of Practice following stories in which a thirteen-year old child was identified.
The complaint was made by the father of the girl, who was the granddaughter of an MSP (John Pentland, Motherwell and Wishaw). The articles reported that North Lanarkshire Council was paying £27,000 in taxi fares over a three year period to take the child to a dance school. Whilst she had not been named in the original council report, the articles themselves named and identified her, including through the republication of a photograph of the family, which had been taken when Mr Pentland was elected three months earlier. Publication had caused distress to the family, the complainant said, and although he had been content to offer a comment to the journalist, he had not authorised the use of the photograph.
The newspapers defended the articles on public interest grounds, arguing that it was reasonable to run a story about such costs in the context of public service cuts, and when alternative (public) transport was available. Given that the child's father had spoken willingly to the newspaper, it had not thought there would be a problem with publishing the photograph which, in any case, existed in the public domain. The newspapers stood by the stories but offered a private letter of apology to the family.
The Commission acknowledged that there was a "legitimate public interest" in reporting how taxpayers' money was being spent. Ultimately, this was a question of whether or not the newspapers 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. Taking all the circumstances into account, the Commission ruled that there had been a breach of Clause 6. Although there was a genuine public interest in the story, "this could have been served without the identity of the child being highlighted" (other newspapers had run the story without identifying the child). The complaints were upheld as a result.
Stephen Abell, Director of the PCC, said: "The Editors' Code contains strict provisions designed to protect children, and requires an exceptional public interest to override this. Although the Commission recognised the public interest in the story and welcomed the offers the newspapers had made to the family to remedy the situation, the complaints were upheld on the basis that the newspapers had not met the high requirements required by the Code".
Notes to editors
2. The Editor of the Sunday Mirror, Tina Weaver, left the room when the adjudications were discussed. This is because the Hamilton Advertiser and Wishaw Press are published by Trinity Mirror, which also publishes the Sunday Mirror. This is in line with the Commission's normal procedures when Commissioners discuss a case about a title which they edit or to which they have a close link. The Commission maintains a Register of Interests, available here.
3. For more information, please contact Jonathan Collett on 020 7438 1246 or 07740 896805.
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