Paper failed to get consent for child interview

A journalist who interviewed a child at school without the consent of his mother led to her newspaper being reprimanded by the Press Complaints Commission.

The PCC upheld a complaint by the mother, Sally Everitt, and her partner, Andy Brick, that their son was interviewed by the Welwyn and Hatfield Times reporter in breach of the Editors’ Code clause on children, even though the interview was never published.

The complainants said that proper consent had not been sought for the interview. The journalist had merely spoken to Brick – not the boy’s legal guardian – who had said that, while there probably would not be a problem, he would have to check with the boy’s mother. He asked the journalist to call back once he had had the chance to speak to Everitt.

The couple said the journalist had then phoned the school and interviewed the boy, who had appeared in a TV programme, and claimed she was doing so with consent. She did not call them back.

The paper said the journalist had only phoned the school after Brick had said it “wouldn’t be a problem” for her to speak to the child. The paper accepted there appeared to have been a misunderstanding about whether she could phone the boy at school. She had apologised and the paper had agreed not to publish anything resulting from the interview.

The PCC said while the newspaper suggested that there had been a misunderstanding, the wording of the clause should have been sufficiently clear “to prevent any such confusion”.

The journalist should not have telephoned the boy at school without proper consent, it decided.

By Jean Morgan

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