A weekly newspaper has been rapped for publishing the medical condition of a teenage girl whose friend was raising funds for research into the illness.
The girl’s parents complained about an article in the Camberley News and Mail in March this year which identified their daughter as having the condition myalgic encephalomyelitis or ME.
The article reported on the fundraising efforts of a 13-year-old girl selling cakes at a farmers’ market to raise funds for ME Research UK because her friend had the illness, and included a photo of the two girls with their names.
But in an adjudication published today, the Press Complaints Commission ruled that the story had breached the privacy of the girl suffering from the condition.
Her parents said they had been happy for their daughter to be photographed but had not consented to the publication of her name and photograph in connection with details of her medical condition.
They said they had previously chosen to inform people of her condition only when necessary, so the article had therefore caused great distress.
The newspaper apologised to the complainants, saying it had intended only to support the girls’ fundraising efforts and its photographer, who had attended the event, had been given information about the child’s condition by her friend and had not realised that it was confidential.
It said the complainants’ daughter had been present when this information was disclosed and the photographer had then spoken briefly to a woman he took to be the girl’s mother, who had commented that she would soon be taken home as she tired easily.
A number of other people had been present, and the photographer had received no impression that the child’s condition was considered to be confidential.
But the complainants denied that the photographer had spoken to them or that their daughter had been present when the information regarding her medical condition was disclosed.
In addition to its apology, the newspaper offered to make a donation to charity, but the complainants did not accept that this was sufficient.
The complaint was upheld by the PCC which said that Clauses 3 (Privacy) and 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice had been breached as the article intruded into a child’s private life.
In its adjudication, the watchdog said the newspaper had an obligation to obtain the complainants’ explicit consent for the publication of these details about their daughter and it was concerned to note that the photographer had apparently acted on an assumption that the child’s condition was not confidential, without verifying this.
Charlotte Dewar, head of complaints and pre-publication services, said: “The publication of medical details poses a serious potential for intrusion, and the issue of consent is critical.
“In this instance, there was an additional factor: the information related to a child, who receives additional protection from intrusion under the terms of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
“The Commission accepted that the newspaper had intended only to support a local cause, but its failure to obtain proper consent from the child’s parents for the publication of information about her condition led to an unfortunate breach of the Code.”