Banned: the kids vanishing from a nation's newspapers

A combination of the Data Protection Act and fear of paedophiles is leading to a new clampdown on pictures traditionally made available to local newspapers by schools and sports clubs.

Schools across the country are refusing media requests to photograph pupils, citing the Data Protection Act, says the Society of Editors.

The problem was highlighted over Christmas when some schools banned filming or photographing of nativity plays because of fears they would be targeted by paedophiles.

One editor was even challenged over taking pictures of a Christmas pantomime in a public hall and asked if he had the permission of the parents of all the children in the show.

Edinburgh City Council is reviewing guidelines suggesting school activities, such as nativity plays, should not be photographed or videoed without the permission of all parents whose children are taking part.

Schools in the West Midlands, Norfolk and Luton reportedly stopped the audience videoing or taking digital pictures of nativity plays. In some cases, newspapers have been told they can use pictures only if they get the permission of all the parents.

One school in the Oldham area refused to let a local paper publish a picture of its new first-year pupils if they were named because of concerns about paedophiles.

Newspaper consultant David Scott claims in the latest issue of Media Lawyer that more and more bodies are using the Data Protection Act to refuse to give information to the press.

Scott gave as one example sports teams which are refusing to give the names of young players for picture captions, claiming the act protects young people from paedophiles.

Society of Editors executive director Bob Satchwell told Press Gazette: "This is a new twist to secrecy using the Data Protection Act. My view is that you are giving in to paedophiles. It means that lots of grannies and grandpas and aunts and uncles don’t get to see a cutting from the local paper of their loved ones doing well in school.

"It is another example of the act being used as an excuse for something it was not meant for. At Christmas, schools were silly about the idea that some people might be filming nativity plays for sinister reasons. Whether it is to do with the Data Protection Act or whether to do with children and paedophiles, people should just use their common sense.

"Schools need to take simple precautions and be careful about strangers, but you cannot put children into a cocoon and take them out of the real world. Why shouldn’t children who have done something good at school have their names and pictures in the local paper?"

Leader, page 14

By Jon Slattery

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