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Parental fears could halt festive pictures

Worries over identifying children at school in press photos could lead to some festive news being left off the pages of local newspapers.

Some regional papers are asking mums, dads and guardians whether their Christmas plays and other events can be shown with their children’s names in the captions.

And if they say “no”, then there could be no coverage for some titles.

The issue has come back under the spotlight after yesterday’s news that a Kettering head teacher had objected to pupils’ names being published in the Evening Telegraph. Editor David Penman said there was no evidence that paedophiles were using press reports to target children.

Peter Barron, at the Northern Echo, said: “Newspapers now face an increasing threat from education authorities,schools and other youth organisations to block positive publicitybecause of fears that it helps paedophiles identify victims.

“There is not an editor in the country who would knowingly place children atrisk from sex offenders. We live in an age when the security of children hasnever been so high on the agenda.

“But common sense has to prevail. Millions of names and photographs ofchildren are published every day without producing any evidence of a link topaedophilia.

“It will be very sad indeed if that colossal amount of positive, motivationalpublicity is sacrificed in favour of first names only, pixilated faces ornothing at all.”

Torquay Herald Express assistant editor Jim Parker said his paper had already encountered problems when taking pictures at schools and some sporting events.

He said: “Our local leisure centre has even banned the taking of photographs in the leisure pool.

“We published a P1 lead on the issue which included a flashback pic of kids – with their faces blanked out – which had been taken in the pool a couple of years earlier during a promotional shoot. Then we had a complaint from one of the mums because her daughter’s face had been blanked!

“Our policy is quite clear – if schools say they don’t want names put to faces we don’t cover the event. If we attend a picture request and encounter problems our photographers are told to politely withdraw.”

That policy is reflected in the way the paper is covering Christmas this year.

Jim said: “Pre-empting problems, we have now amended a form we send out to every school in our patch at this time of the year asking them to inform us of their plays and events. There is a section asking if they are happy for the children to be identified. If the answer is ‘no’ they are told we will not be coming.”

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  • David Gledhill, editor of the Bath Chronicle, has also experienced problems when children have been identified.

    He said: “We will be publishing a nativity supplement and we will only be using the first names of the children.

    “Sadly we did go through a phase here whereby children we had identified in school pictures were targeted by telephone callers of the nuisance variety.

    “However, when a single child is highlighted because of achievements, for example, we use their name in full or we do not run the story.”

    Nick Hunter, managing editor of Scottish Provincial Press, which publishes 12 titles in north and north-east Scotland, said schools knew in advance when an accredited press photographer was planning to visit on a certain date – and if a parent or head teacher objected, the school play or reception class picture was simply not taken.

    Such objections are very few and far between, and for his papers, the general rule is that individual children in such groups are not identified in any way.

    He said: “In the Highlands, coverage of events like these are looked forward to. The local paper is part of the community and the community, by and large, like to see their youngsters in the local paper. The extremes of political correctness evident in the south have, so far (and thankfully), not been seen to any degree north of the Highland Line.”

    And Neal Butterworth, editor of the Daily Echo in Bournemouth, said: “We don’t generally cover lots of nativity plays, simply as we are still including four pages of pictures every Monday from our reception classes.

    “These are groups of youngsters and we invite the schools to invite us so that it doesn’t create problems. Having said that, if nativity pictures are taken, they are generally group shots and there are no names involved.

    “We are still including full names in small groups of children and apart from the very rare request, most are published without comment.

    “I think we have to be sensitive to the issue at all times.”

    But Jon Grubb, at the Scunthorpe Telegraph, believes such decisions are difficult to make and to justify – and after discussions with head teachers and the local authority in North Lincolnshire, does not take or use pictures unless he has consent to use full names.

    He said: “After meetings and debate we have decided that schools will now ask for parental consent for names and pictures to be used in the paper. Where parents give consent we will take pictures. When they don’t we won’t.”

    He said papers which ran more than one policy opened up questions regarding when to use which option.

    He said: “If you accept that in cases where stories are about the individual achievements then a full name makes sense then the argument becomes more complex.

    “It’s hard to see how putting individuals with full names does not present a risk but group shots with full names do!

    “I think at the moment this complication has not really been raised.”

    The Lincolnshire Echo is to publish nativity pictures and will publish the names of the children.

    Editor Mike Sassi said: “We find that the vast majority of parents are very eager to have their sons’ and daughters’ names in their local newspaper. In the past we have had complaints from mothers and fathers whose children have not appeared in published pictures. We have also had similar queries on occasions when we have not published full names, for example with larger, group shots.

    “The Echo believes it is important to celebrate all the achievements and successes of our local youngsters. Pupils do not have to have excelled at exams or sport to be included and to have their names published.”

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    ©NEP 2003