The UK Sun admitted it was wrong to publish a front page report on a 4-year-old it called “boyezelbub” with a “Satan symbol on chest.”
Its excuse: It was meant to be a light-hearted story!
The Sun paid the parents of the child and published photos of him with its July 29 story, “Boy, 4, has mark of devil.” The Sun showed the faces of the mother and child, making them identifiable. It further named the mother, the boy, and the mother’s two other children, according to a re-publication of the article on the website Fellowship of the Minds. The boy’s face was’t blurred, but the Sun‘s PR representative noted to iMediaEthics that the boy’s mother OKed the images.
According to the Sun, the “unusual mark” showed on the boy May 23 and went away less than a month later.
The article said, “A sinister Satan sign that mysteriously appeared on a four-year-old boy is proving a devil to explain.” The Sun quoted the boy’s “shocked” mother saying “Just looking at it made me shake thinking something unnatural had visited my boy.”
The mother was further quoted saying she has completed an online questionairre to see if he was abducted by an alien.
The Sun published a photo of the mother with the child next to an image of a red-faced and horned devil. See below:
After a complaint to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which replaced the Press Complaints Commission in September, the Sun admitted it “didn’t get it right,” according to IPSO’s website.
The Sun claimed it meant for its coverage to be “lighthearted and fanciful,” according to IPSO. In a statement published by the Independent back in July, the Sun said
“This was a story provided by the parents, who had already publicised the pictures and story on Facebook. We sought to treat it in a lighthearted fashion, highlighting the apparently fanciful link to the occult. We are conscious of the code and guidance around paying parents. We did not encourage the parents to embellish or expand the story; it came to us, and had already been the subject of discussion (raised by the parents) on social media.”
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A Parliament member complained about the Sun‘s report. Dr. Sarah Wollaston MP argued the Sun shouldn’t have paid the family of the child because it could exploit children in future cases and because she said the coverage wasn’t fair for the child.
Wollaston publicly complained at the time of the publication, telling the Guardian:
“It is a completely outrageous headline, and to link that with an identifiable picture of a child is wholly inappropriate on every level. This is absolutely not lighthearted. What possible justification can there be for including this child’s face, or for saying this child is marked by the devil? It is the most irresponsible piece of journalism I have seen for a long time.”
In light of the IPSO complaint, which has been resolved, The Sun published a correction in print that read:
“The Sun is proud of our record standing up for children and we believe we make a real difference. We have listened to the concerns about a story we ran on 29th July headlined “Boy, 4, has mark of devil” and we accept that, on this occasion, we didn’t get it right. As a result, we have tightened our procedures on all stories involving children, including the issue of paying parents”.
The Sun‘s PR representative pointed iMediaEthics to the tabloid’s correction when asked for comment.
The Sun promised that moving forward it will be better in reporting on children by enacting requirements for paying for coverage of children and other aspects of coverage.
“The Sun committed to ensuring that, in future: all significant stories involving minors should be discussed and approved by the legal and managing editors’ office; any front page coverage of children will be given especial consideration with regard to the interests of the child; and payments involving children would be signed off by the legal and managing editors’ office,” according to IPSO. “The newspaper said that much of this reflected current practice, but it has now become part of formal procedure.”
Hat Tip: Press Gazette