Key rulings 2010
In March 2010, the Commission upheld two complaints from the mother of a primary school child who had been on a school trip when the bus she was travelling on crashed into a railway bridge. Both the Leicester Mercury and the Nottingham Evening Post had published photographs of her daughter, and other children, being comforted by a policeman at the scene of the accident. No parental consent had been given for the publication of the image. The newspapers stated that they had considered whether or not to publish the photograph very carefully; ultimately, they believed it to be justifi ed in the public interest. The Leicester Mercury also argued that publication would not have had an impact on the welfare of the children involved, while the Nottingham Evening Post said that the lack of any serious injuries or fatalities had been an important factor in its decision to go ahead and publish.
The Commission 'did not wish to interfere unnecessarily' with the newspapers' right to report the story: they were clearly 'entitled to publish stories and pictures of serious road accidents, which take place in public and often have wide-reaching consequences'. Nonetheless, there could be no doubt that the photograph related to the child's welfare, and no consent had been given. As a result, there was a breach of the Code. While it recognised that 'there may be occasions where the scale and gravity of the circumstances can mean that [such material] can be published in the public interest without consent', on this occasion, the Commission judged the newspapers to be 'just the wrong side of the line'. The complaint was upheld.
In November 2010, the Commission also upheld a complaint against the Wanstead and Woodford Guardian following an article which reported that a teacher had resigned after he had been found to be working as a porn star. Following a request for comments from pupils and parents, the newspaper had received an email apparently from the complainant's daughter (a 14-year-old girl) and published its contents. She was quoted as saying that the teacher, who taught sex education lessons, had spoken 'openly and truthfully about sex' and that she would 'more likely catch STIs without his lessons'. The complainant said that his daughter (who was not, in any case, a 'sixth-form student') had not made any such comment to the newspaper: she had not written the email and he believed that her account might have been used by someone else.
The newspaper said it had assumed that the comment had been submitted by someone over 16, given that it understood the teacher to have only taught sex education to sixth form students. It had not specifically interviewed the child, and did not believe that publication of comments represented an intrusion.
The Commission expressed concern that the newspaper had not taken more care following receipt of the email, given its content and the context of the story. In particular, it said that the newspaper should have established the age of the complainant's daughter before publication. Given that the subject matter clearly related to the child's welfare, the result was a breach of Clause 6 of the Code.