Adjudication – A woman v the South Wales Argus

A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the South Wales Argus breached Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article published on Friday 22 September 2023.

The complaint was upheld, and IPSO required the South Wales Argus to publish this adjudication to remedy the breach of the Editors’ Code.

The article was an interview with a man with a terminal illness, who had donated money to a local hospice which was providing him with palliative care. The article described the man as a “single dad” to a child; the child’s age and gender were also published, and the child in question was under the age of 16, The article went on to include his child’s first name. The article included two photographs of the man and his child.

The complainant – the mother and custodial parent of the child referenced in the article – said the article breached Clause 6 because it had impacted her child’s time at school. She said her child had been approached by other students in school who had learnt of their father’s terminal illness after reading the article. The complainant said this had a profound impact on their ability to attend school and maintain their education. It meant that they had missed school on several occasions, which had negatively impacted their ability to study for their upcoming assessments.

The publication did not accept that the article breached Clause 6 (i) by intruding into the child’s schooling unnecessarily, as it said the article and photos had no connection to their education.

The Committee did not accept the publication’s argument that it had not breached Clause 6 (i) because the article did not refer to the child’s education specifically. Clause 6 is intended to prevent unnecessary intrusion into the education of a school-age child; a child’s time at school can be intruded into by an article’s publication, regardless of whether it explicitly mentions their education. A prominent focus of the article which – as the publication acknowledged, heightened the human interest in the story – was the fact the man had a child. The article featured images of the child, their name, and included the father’s reference to the child having “a particularly difficult and tough time”. The Committee did not, therefore, consider that the child, and their experience of having a terminally ill parent, was incidental to the article. In such a case, there was a clear potential impact on the child’s schooling which should have been considered prior to publication.

In this case, the Committee considered the impact on the child’s schooling was clear – news of the father’s illness had reached the child’s peers, which had been upsetting and ultimately impacted their attendance. It further noted that the publication had not taken any steps, prior to publication, to ensure it had the consent of the child’s custodial parent. Considering these factors, as well as the fact the publication was unable to demonstrate it had considered, or taken any measures to minimise, the impact the article might have on the child’s education, given the emphasis the article placed on them and their relationship with their father, the Committee found a breach of Clause 6.

IPSO upheld the complaint as a breach of Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code and ordered the publication of this ruling.