PCC raps weekly for reporting child's medical condition

A Welsh weekly newspaper has been censured by the Press Complaints Commission for revealing a child’s medical condition and naming him without consent from his parents.

The parents complained to the press watchdog after the picture appeared in the Cambrian News in a story headlined ‘Anger at council’s changes to pupils’ disabled taxi service’on 31 March, 2011, reporting on criticism of a local council’s decision to put out to tender contracts for a school taxi service for disabled children.

The parents gave the paper permission to run a picture of their son – on condition they did not publish his name or details of his medical condition.

In its defence the Cambrian News, which is owned by Tindle Newspapers and based in Aberystwyth, claimed the information had been supplied by the driver of the taxi service, who they believed was acting on the parents’ behalf with their consent.

‘This understanding had been supported by the presence of one of the complainants when the photograph was taken; the photographer said that he had not been informed that personal details should not be used in the article,’the PCC said.

The paper has since acknowledged that it should have approached the parents before publishing information about their child and apologised to the family.

The PCC upheld complaints made under clauses 3 (privacy) and 6 (children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

PCC Director Stephen Abell said: “The Editors’ Code makes clear that ‘everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence’ and requires editors to justify intrusions without consent.

‘This case demonstrates the paramount need for newspapers and magazines to establish – in advance of publication – exactly which is the competent authority to grant consent. The Cambrian News failed to take the necessary steps prior to publication and the commission upheld the complaint as a result.”

The parents asked that the newspaper ‘apologise publicly, offer an assurance that it would obtain appropriate parental consent in future, and accept that the issue had not been caused by a ‘misunderstanding’.’

The PCC ruling

In its adjudication the PCC said: “The publication of private medical details about an individual (of any age) without consent plainly raises significant issues under Clause 3 of the Editors’ Code, which states that everyone is entitled to respect for their health, and that editors will be expected to justify intrusions without consent.

“In cases involving children, the requirements of Clause 6 also apply. Clause 6 states that ‘young people should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion’.

“In this case, the information about the complainants’ child’s medical condition had been provided by a third party.

“It was the newspaper’s responsibility to obtain the complainants’ consent for the publication of this information and other personal details.

“It appeared that the newspaper had not taken any steps to verify independently that consent had been given. This was inadequate in light of the requirements of both clause 3 and Clause 6 of the code.”

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