PCC rejects complaints against Evening News and Scotsman newspapers, over use of child photograph

THE Edinburgh Evening News and, its sister title, The Scotsman, have been both cleared by the Press Complaints Commission following their use of a photograph of a child.

The PCC adjudication follows a complaint made by the father of a child, pictured holding a derogatory sign about football club, Hibernian FC.

Says the PCC, in a statement: “The complainant said that the photograph, which had been pixelated, was published without his consent in breach of Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

“The complainant said he had posted the photograph on Facebook in the mistaken belief that his privacy settings would prevent its circulation beyond his Facebook friends. He had been shocked that the image had been shared online and appeared in the Press two days later.

“The newspapers said that the photograph, which had been taken in a public place, had been widely viewed and discussed before publication; on one Facebook page for football fans 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. The newspapers considered they had simply republished an image that the complainant had already placed in the public domain in the context of coverage highlighting the behaviour of football fans, and noted that they had made efforts to obscure the child’s identity.

“There was no dispute that the newspapers had not obtained the complainant’s consent to publish the photograph, and the Commission accepted that it related, to a limited extent, to the complainant’s son’s welfare. Nonetheless, the Commission noted a countervailing public interest in publication: the case illustrated the potential risks for children and others of the free circulation of material through social networks. 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 coverage had focused on this issue – ‘rather than aiming to embarrass or ridicule the complainant’s son’ – and the newspapers had taken the steps to mitigate the effect on him.”

Charlotte Dewar, director of complaints and pre-publication services, is quoted, as saying: “The terms of the Code provide strong protection for children, but the Commission recognises that there is an important public interest in airing issues relating to children’s welfare. In some instances, this means discussing individual cases. This case raised potentially sensitive issues, but the Commission decided that the newspapers’ approach had been responsible and appropriate, and showed due concern for the welfare of the child at the centre of the story.”

Read the full adjudication here (about the Evening News) and here (about The Scotsman).