Press Ombudsman upholds complaint by Julie and Robert Duhy
On 23 June 2016 the Press Ombudsman decided to uphold a complaint by Julie and Robert Duhy that the Sun.ie breached Principle 9 (Children) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
On 23 February 2016 the Sun.ie reported that Julie Duhy on behalf of her child had sued Ralph Lauren Ireland Limited for the faulty manufacture of baby pants which had resulted in the child sustaining red welts on her thighs. Ralph Lauren agreed to pay €17,500 plus legal costs. The report published in the Sun.ie was accompanied by two photographs of the child.
In an email to the editor of the Irish Sun Julie and Robert Duhy complained that the photographs used to accompany the article published online had been obtained without permission. They claimed that Principle 3 (fair Procedures and Honesty) and Principle 9 (Children) had been breached.
The editor responded that the photographs had accompanied the online article for only three-and-a-half hours, and were taken down immediately it came to the attention of the publication that permission had not been obtained for their use. The editor apologised for the upset caused by the use of the photographs and arranged for the article to be removed from the Irish Sun website.
Julie and Robert Duhy were not satisfied with the editor’s response and made a formal complaint to the Press Ombudsman’s Office.
In regard to Principle 9 the editor said that because the photographs were taken from a YouTube clip publicly available online, it was not thought that there would be a difficulty using them. He also stated that there was “real public interest in personal injury actions and the level of damages and costs being awarded by Irish courts at this time”. The editor again apologised to the family for the upset caused by the publication of the photographs. He offered to publish an apology, and to meet Mr and Mrs Duhy to address and allay any outstanding questions or concerns they may have.
As the complaint could not be conciliated it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
I am upholding the complaint against the Sun.ie on the grounds that the publication of the images of the child was a breach of Principle 9 of the Code of Practice. This Principle states that journalists and editors should have regard for the vulnerability of children. Irrespective of the lack of privacy provisions in the uploading of images to YouTube account has to be taken as to the purposes for which the Duhys uploaded the images of their daughter. The usual purpose for uploading images of children is so that friends and families can see celebrations, family occasions, holidays, etc. The justification for a newspaper to publish these kinds of images is that they have obtained permission or if the images are in some way relevant to the outcome of court proceedings. As the parents made no claim in court that their daughter had suffered any long term damages from the faulty baby pants I cannot see how the publication of images of a child at play some years after the event can be justified in this particular case. Therefore I have decided that the publication of these images is a failure to take account of the vulnerability of the child. The prompt decision by the Sun.ie to take down the two photographs, and its offer to publish an apology, were welcome, but given the serious breach of Principle 9 resulting from the publication of the photographs this is not regarded as sufficient action to resolve the complaint.
No evidence was provided to me that Principle 3 had been breached in the obtaining of the images published online (Principle 3 refers to the manner in which images are obtained).
Other parts of the complaint about an article published on 24 February in the print edition of the Irish Sun were not upheld.
Julie and Robert Duhy claimed that the publication of their daughter’s full name and location in the print edition of the newspaper on 24 February “…potentially placed her in grave danger” and that the headline used over the article which included the words “Scar tot” was distasteful to their daughter and insensitive to her injury. They claimed that Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) had been breached.
In its formal submission to the Office of the Press Ombudsman the editor stated that the reference in the headline to “Scar tot” did not breach Principle 1, as it was “designed to convey to the reader” that the child had received compensation “as a result of an injury of this nature”.
In regard to the text of the report published in the Irish Sun I believe it was entitled to report the outcome of the court proceedings in the manner in which it did, as what was reported was a matter of public record. I did not find the reporting sensationalist or offensive. The reference in the headline to “Scar tot” was insensitive, but on its own did not breach the Code of Practice. Parents who sue in open court on behalf of their children can expect a degree of publicity and attention on their children. I do not think that the Irish Sun over-stepped the mark in its reporting of this case.
The decision was appealed to the Press Council of Ireland.
The Irishsun.ie appealed the decision on the grounds that the Press Ombudsman erred in his application of the Code of Practice. The Press Council considered the appeal at its meeting on 2 September 2016 and decided that the Press Ombudsman had not erred in his application of the Code and it therefore reaffirmed his decision. While acknowledging the swift action taken by the publication to remedy the matter, the Council concurred that the protection accorded to children under Principle 9 of the Code was paramount in coming to its decision.