Clauses Noted: 3, 6
Publication: Camberley News and Mail
A married couple complained to the Press Complaints Commission that an article headlined "Sweet result for Mica's charity stall", published in the Camberley News and Mail on 2 March 2012, had intruded into their teenage daughter's privacy in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors' Code of Practice.
The complaint was upheld.
The article reported that a 13-year old girl was selling cakes at a farmers' market to raise funds for ME Research UK because her friend - the complainants' daughter - had the condition. The article named the complainants' daughter, included a photograph of her, and made clear that she had ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis). The complainants said that they had been happy for their daughter to be photographed but had not consented to the publication of her name and photograph in connection with details of her medical condition. Publication of the article had caused their daughter great distress as the family had tried to avoid labelling her as having ME, and had therefore informed people of her condition only when necessary.
The newspaper said it had intended to support the fundraising initiative, and it sincerely apologised to the complainants for the distress caused and offered to make a financial contribution to an ME charity of the complainants' choice. It had been contacted by the organisers of the market seeking publicity for the event. The photographer had taken a picture of the complainants' daughter and her friend at the stall; the friend had provided information about the complainants' daughter's medical condition. The newspaper said the complainants' daughter had been present when this information was disclosed. The photographer had then spoken briefly to a woman he took to be the girl's mother, who had commented that she would soon be taken home as she tired easily. A number of other people had been present, and the photographer had received no impression that the child's condition was considered to be confidential.
The complainants denied that the photographer had spoken to them or that their daughter had been present when the information regarding her medical condition was disclosed to the photographer. The newspaper's apology and offer of a charitable contribution were not sufficient in the complainants' opinion in light of the distress caused by the article.
It was evident that in publishing this coverage, the newspaper had intended to support a laudable initiative by local children. Nonetheless, the publication of medical information poses a significant potential for intrusion and should only be undertaken once appropriate checks have been made.
Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors' Code of Practice states that everyone is entitled to respect for their "private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications", and that "editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent". In cases involving children, consent should be obtained from a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult. Clause 6 (Children) also protects children at school from "unnecessary intrusion".
The information about the complainants' daughter's medical condition had been provided by a third party, herself a child. The newspaper had an obligation to obtain the complainants' explicit consent for the publication of these details about their daughter. The Commission was concerned to note that the photographer had apparently acted on an assumption that the child's condition was not confidential, without verifying this. Had he taken steps to gain the express consent of one of the child's parents for the publication of her name and medical information, it was likely that this confusion would have been rectified. In the event, he had not done so, and the result was that the article intruded into the child's private life in breach of Clause 3 and Clause 6 of the Code.
The complaint was upheld.
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