A man who complained about newspaper coverage portraying his son as a “Nazi” has had his claim rejected by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).
The story, published by The Belfast Telegraph on 10 September last year appeared under the headline: “Top grammar school comes under fire after pupil’s quotes that praise Hitler are included in yearbook”.
The paper reported a school yearbook entry in which the youth quoted from Adolf Hitler’s autobiography Mein Kampf and described himself as “British, Loyalist and Fascist”. It included a pixelated photograph of the boy.
This sparked a complaint from the boy’s father, who claimed the story breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
The man said anybody who knew his son could identify him from the photograph, despite the pixelation, that the newspaper failed to contact his son prior to publication and that by publishing his yearbook entry it had breached his privacy.
He also stated that as a result of the article, his son had received unpleasant comments with many people making posts on social media, and that his son had been contacted by another newspaper.
IPSO ruled that although the boy’s comments may have been written as “in-jokes” he had written these comments for publication in a yearbook, which could be expected to be read without the benefit of that context.
The regulator’s complaints committee said the paper was therefore justified in interpreting the entry as “praising” Hitler and its report was not misleading.
It said comments were taken from the school’s yearbook, which school leavers write themselves, and the boy was not named in the story.
The boy’s father made the complaint on the basis that the comments were written in the context of “banter” in the boy’s politics class, and that by taking the yearbook entry out of its context and ignoring its light-hearted nature the newspaper had inaccurately and unfairly portrayed his son as a neo-Nazi.
He also claimed that it was normal for his son to quote historical figures in in his academic work, and that quoting figures such as Hitler did not mean that he subscribed to their ideology.
In their defence, The Belfast Telegraph stated that the boy had waived any right of privacy in respect of the remarks he made in his yearbook entry. They argued that the fact the yearbook was endorsed by a leading school, and would be read by pupils and others from diverse sections of society, meant that there was a public interest in informing the public about the matter.
They also denied the article was inaccurate, and said that the boy was not approached for comment as the yearbook entry was already in the public domain.
IPSO acknowledged the complainant’s view that the quotes attributed to his son were “in-jokes” but ruled that the Telegraph article did not contain any significantly misleading comments and could not be held responsible for other newspapers contacting the complainant’s son.
They also said the boy did not have reasonable expectation of privacy due to his own public disclosure of this information in the yearbook, and hence the paper had not breached any clause of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The complaint was not upheld.