PAUL CRONIN AGAINST HERALD ON SUNDAY

Case Number: 2440

Council Meeting: JUNE 2015

Verdict: Upheld

Publication: Herald On Sunday

Ruling Categories: Privacy
Children and Young People
Photographs

Paul Cronin complains that an article headed “Former Black Cap Mathew Sinclair Flees with Kids after Domestic Incident” published by the Herald on Sunday online and in its 19 April 2015 print edition breaches the Press Council’s Principles two (Privacy), three (Children and young people) and eleven (Photographs and graphics).

The story related to an incident involving the former Black Cap cricketer Mathew Sinclair which was domestic related.

Mr Cronin complains as a third party. The Council does not always accept third party complaints. It has decided to accept the complaint in this instance given its importance.

The complaint is upheld.

Background
The Herald on Sunday story covered an incident involving Mr Sinclair having allegedly “vanished with his children” following a domestic incident. The story referred to Mr and Mrs Sinclair’s two young children by name. The story referred to the police having found Mr Sinclair and the children at a fast food restaurant not long after his alleged disappearance. This story referred to Mr Sinclair speaking to the police. The story went on to comment upon the difficulties Mr Sinclair had faced following his international cricket career concluding.

The story, the same in the on line and print versions, was accompanied by photographs of the children. The image illustrating the online story was of the children accompanying their father upon leaving a Taradale restaurant presumably on the day of the incident. The print story was accompanied by a picture of Mr and Mrs Sinclair and their children. The online photograph had the children’s’ faces “pixilated”. Both versions included a photo of Mr Sinclair talking to a police officer.

The Complaint
Mr Cronin complains that the story breached the Council’s principles referred to above by referring to the children in the story. Mr Cronin claims the story amounts to “gutter journalism at its worst” and that the children are likely to have been harmed by the reference to them. Mr Cronin says that the children could not give consent to their images being used. There is no legitimate public interest in the matter and nothing which justifies the exposing of the children to ridicule, bullying and stress.

The Response
The Herald on Sunday responds by denying that the story breaches the children’s right to privacy or that there is no element of public interest. Mr Sinclair had left the home where he lived with his wife taking the children with him after police had been called to the property. There was concern about the wellbeing of the children and police were called to search for them.

The newspaper refers to the fact that Mr Sinclair had previously given several media interviews discussing his difficulties after his cricket career had ended. The newspaper says that given the circumstances the story was a legitimate one to report. The fact police were called and subsequently searched for a father and his missing children elevated the matter into the public domain.

The newspaper says that while the right to privacy is an important one it weighed the issue carefully. The decision was taken to obscure the children’s faces in the photograph published with the online story “to reflect to their lack of responsibility for whatever had gone on in this instance”. The newspaper says that Mr Sinclair had previously consented to publication of the photo used to illustrate the print story. In this photo the children were about two years younger.

The Decision
The Press Council agrees that this complaint is justified. While there is certainly a public interest in the issues faced by high profile sports people once they leave national and international arenas it was not necessary in this instance for the children to be identified by their names and images even though their faces, in the photo published online, were deliberately blurred. Mr Sinclair and the children lived in a provincial city where they were undoubtedly well known. The pixelating of the children’s’ faces was an ineffective measure to prevent identification. The obscuring does not in the Council’s view “reflect the children’s lack of responsibility” for what had happened as the newspaper claims.

The incident reported upon by the newspaper was undoubtedly a most painful and one for members of this family. It was not right for the newspaper to have given the prominence it did to the children, who by the newspaper’s own admission were entirely innocent.

The Council’s Principles are clear. Principle two recognises that everyone is normally entitled to privacy, although the right to privacy should not interfere with publication of significant matters of public record or public interest. This complaint concerns only the children. The Press Council has not been asked to consider whether the publication of the incident breached the privacy of the adults involved and this issue is put to one side. There can be no doubt that the children’s privacy, in their being named and photographed, was breached. There was no public interest involved.

Principle three provides that in cases involving children, editors must demonstrate an exceptional degree of public interest which overrides the interests of the child or young person. The public interest in this story was far from being sufficient to override the interests of these children.

The Council finds that Principles two and three have been breached.

The Council notes some inconsistency in the newspaper’s approach. The newspaper was concerned enough to pixilate the faces of the children in the photo taken on the day of the incident and yet they were named in the story, and identified in the published family photo (albeit an image taken some time before). In these circumstances it is difficult to see what the newspaper thought it was achieving just by the pixilation. These children did not deserve to be identified in this story.

The Council does not agree that the fact Mr Sinclair may have permitted the publication for the family photograph at an earlier time justifies the newspaper’s approach. If such permission was given (and the Council has received nothing verifying this to be the case) the permission would have applied in an entirely different context, and not this one where this family was under stress.

While the Council does not find Principle eleven to have been breached this finding does not detract from the matters canvassed above.

The complaint is upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Chris Darlow, Liz Brown, Jenny Farrell, Sandy Gill, Marie Shroff, Vernon Small and Stephen Stewart.

Sir John Hansen took no part in the consideration of this complaint.