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Newspaper 'wrong to identify pupils' in mobile phone footage filmed at school

A newspaper which ran unedited video footage, filmed on a mobile phone from inside a school, on its website has been rapped for failing to conceal the identity of pupils.

The Hamilton Advertiser also published still images from the video in its print version of the story.

The Press Complaints Commission said the report about a 16-year-old student who filmed her unruly maths class at school to explain poor results to her parents was in the public interest.

But The Advertiser also had a responsibility to make sure it did not infringe the rights of the pupils in the footage, the PCC said.

It said news staff should have concealed the children’s identity or obtained proper consent, and by not doing so it had unnecessarily intruted into the pupils’ time at school, breaching Clause 6 (Children) of the Code of Practice.

The ruling was the first case the PCC has adjudicated on about audio-visual material on a newspaper’s website, following the decision to extend its remit in February.

It followed a complaint by the president of the school’s Parent Teacher Association, over the article ‘Nicola films class after her parents snap over report’, which was published in the Hamilton Advertiser in March.

She complained that no permission had been given by the school, the children or their parents for the class to be filmed, or for footage to be published.

She also complained that the paper had not contacted the school before publishing the story to find out if this was a genuine problem or a one-off incident.

The newspaper said it had not infiltrated the school, but rather published footage taken by a pupil, and that there was a clear public interest in the lack of supervision in the class.

It also argued that the footage did not intrude into the education of the children featured, all of whom were over 16.

It said it was willing to apologise to pupils if the article had caused distress, but not to the school authorities.

The video on the website had been removed on the day of publication and an undertaking had been given not to use the images in the future.

In its adjudication, the PCC said the claims that the lack classroom discipline was affecting pupil performance was “clearly one of considerable public interest” and so the paper was right to use – at least in part – the information contained in the video.

But it said any public interest in identifying the pupils was not so great as to override their rights under the Code, and so steps should have been taken to conceal their identity or to obtain proper consent.

Complaints from the PTA about the same story, against the Daily Mirror and the Sun, were not upheld because neither paper ran the video online and both newspapers published stills from the video which did not identify pupils.

The PCC noted that the articles demonstrated that it was possible to publish the story in a meaningful way while obscuring the pupils’ identities.