Press Ombudsman upholds complaint against Independent.ie
THE Press Ombudsman has decided to uphold a complaint made by the parents of a child that Independent.ie breached Principles 1 (Truth and Accuracy) and 9 (Children) of the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Magazines.
On 13 February Independent.ie published an article with an accompanying video headlined Schoolboy tells Tánaiste Joan Burton: ‘The water pipes need to be fixed before we have to pay’. The schoolboy was named in the report, and the report stated that the schoolboy had addressed his remarks directly to the Tánaiste.
The Tánaiste had been invited to a formal “turning of the sod” for a new school in west Dublin. After the formal ceremony she was invited to see some of the school activities. These included a debate on water charges. The video posted on Independent.ie showed the schoolboy giving his speech at the debate.
His parents made a formal complaint to the Press Ombudsman’s Office claiming that the publication of his speech had been inaccurately reported and that his privacy had been breached by the posting of the video as permission had not been given by either the school or his parents to record and publish the debate.
In its formal response to the complaint the Managing Editor of Independent Newspapers apologised to the parents “for any distress that has arisen following the publication” of the video. The response also went on to point out that Independent.ie had taken down the article and video as soon as the matter came to its attention, but acknowledged that by that time it been picked up by some external online outlets over whom Independent.ie had no control. The response went on to state that Independent.ie was unaware of any restrictions on reporting the event. The response also stood over the accuracy of the report.
As it was not possible to resolve this complaint by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
I am upholding this complaint on the grounds that Independent.ie breached both Principles 1 and Principle 9 of the Code of Practice.
To describe the schoolboy debating as addressing his remarks to the Tánaiste was inaccurate and therefore a breach of Principle 1. The remarks were being addressed to the opposing side in the debate, the Tánaiste was simply in attendance.
As the “turning of the sod” at a new school building was a newsworthy event journalists could have been expected to attend and report on the event. When the Tánaiste was invited to see some of the school activities journalists could have had the reasonable expectation that permission to report was implied and they could report what the Tánaiste saw. However, when it came to reporting and videoing a debate on a controversial topic there was an onus on the newspaper to obtain the permission of either the school authorities or the schoolboy’s parents to ensure that they had permission to identify and video the child participating in the debate. Principle 9.1 of the Code requires newspapers to exercise “particular care” in presenting information or comment about a child. Principle 9.2 requires journalists to “have regard for the vulnerability of children”, particularly where the subject matter is sensitive. Both of these requirements of Principle 9 were breached by the report and posting of the video on 13 February.
8 May 2015
The newspaper appealed the decision of the Press Ombudsman to the Press Council of Ireland.
Decision of the Press Council
The appeal from the newspaper was heard by the Press Council at its meeting on 3 July 2015. The Press Council decided to reject the appeal and to affirm the decision of the Press Ombudsman.