It’s not an invasion of privacy to report that someone died, even if the deceased is a child, the UK press regulator the Independent Press Standards Organisation said in a recent ruling.
“Journalists have a right to report the fact of a person’s death; a person’s death may have an impact on communities, as well as individuals, and as such constitute a legitimate subject for reporting,” IPSO said. “The Editors’ Code of Practice does not prevent the use of any photos of people who have died.”
In a ruling in favor of the Scottish Daily Star, IPSO dismissed a woman’s complaint about an April 2018 story, “Tragedy as schoolboy, 7, dies after soft play birthday party.” The story reported on the death of the seven-year-old after his brother’s 10th birthday party, included photos of the deceased and his mother, and reported that the mother was “offered support by relative and specialist police officers.” The article also included an anonymous quote attributed to a friend of the mother.
The deceased child’s aunt complained to IPSO over the article arguing it was an invasion of privacy, insensitive and distressful. The aunt said some family members didn’t know the child died, the photos were private, that the mother didn’t receive support from officers, and that the article shouldn’t have included the age of the older brother. She also complained that the anonymous quote was attributed inaccurately to a family member (the Star admitted it was an error and the quote was from a family friend). iMediaEthics is writing to the Star.
However, the Daily Star defended its story, noting it reported on other news outlets’ coverage of the death and confirmed the story with the police. The Star also defended its publication of photos. That said, the Daily Star went ahead and unpublished its article and said it would apologize for upsetting the family. The apology was to read:
“On 10 April 2015 we published an article headlined “Tragedy as schoolboy, 7, dies after soft play birthday party”. The article reported on the death of Harris McGurk who collapsed after leaving a party venue in Edinburgh. Our article said that ‘specialist police officers’ were offering support to Selina MacKenzie. According to the family they were not offered any support by the police. The article was illustrated with a picture of Harris and we apologise if the family were caused upset by the use of that image to illustrate the article. Finally our article said ‘Footie fan Harris, one of four brothers, was last night described as a ‘smashing boy’. We understand the family were also upset about the reporting of the fact Harris had three brothers and again we apologise if the inclusion of this fact caused them additional upset.”
IPSO agreed that it was fair to report on the child’s death and found that the Daily Star handled it sensitively. Further, IPSO noted that the photos in question of the child and mother were published both on Facebook and in other news outlets so they were fair game, according to IPSO. And, it was OK to publish the fact the child died after his brother’s 10th birthday party, according to IPSO, because the story didn’t include the brother’s “name or other personal details.”