IPSO – REPORTING RESTRICTIONS: Newspaper faces questions from court and regulator over interview with child

The Daily Mail has faced questions from both a High Court judge and press regulator IPSO, over a journalist’s visit with a 15-year-old who was the subject of care proceedings.

The journalist had spoken separately to the child and his mother over the telephone. She then visited the boy at the residential care unit in which he was living, he having said that he wanted her to do so.

The journalist signed the visitors’ book under her married name (rather than the name she uses professionally) and described herself as a friend, rather than as a journalist. No article was published as a result of the story.

The Judge considered the facts of the visit in the context of determining the mother’s involvement, and found that whilst it was ‘unlikely’ that the boy’s mother had given the journalist express permission to visit him, she had ‘enthusiastically contrived to facilitate the interview’, and gave the journalist the address of the residential unit.

Whilst he made findings of fact, the judge did not make any findings on whether the IPSO code had been breached, as this was a matter for IPSO.

Following the case, the boy’s guardian made a complaint to IPSO. The complaint referred to clauses 2 (privacy), 6 (children) and 8 (hospitals). The Daily Mail accepted that the journalist should have discussed the proposed visit with editorial executives to properly confirm that the public interest considerations which she had in mind, relating to the conditions in which the boy was living and proposals for his future care, justified her actions.

The newspaper had taken steps to ensure that there was no repeat of the incident. IPSO became involved at an early stage, and the matter was resolved by the Daily Mail writing a private letter to the boy apologising for the journalist’s actions. As the complaint was resolved, IPSO made no findings as to whether there had been a breach of its code.

This case shows the issues that can arise when a journalist wishes to meet with or interview a child or vulnerable person, particularly one subject to court proceedings. In this case both the court and the regulator became involved. Those considering taking such action should always discuss it with senior editorial staff, and ensure that both the law and relevant regulatory framework (be that IPSO, OFCOM or another code) are complied with. In particular, public interest concerns need careful consideration.