128/2019 - A Mother and Evoke.ie
The Press Ombudsman has upheld a complaint that Evoke.ie breached Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty), Principle 5 (Privacy) and Principle 9 (Children) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
Evoke.ie published an article based on an Instagram account of a mother who posted images of her daughter and wrote about her daughter’s struggles to overcome health issues. The article included images of the woman, her husband and their baby. All three were clearly identifiable. The article named the parents and child and gave the town where they lived. The article included several postings from Instagram in which the mother described her feelings as her daughter struggled with her medical condition.
The mother wrote to the editor of Evoke.ie stating that she was “disgusted” with the coverage, that Evoke.ie did not have permission to use her daughter’s images or write about her daughter. The mother stated “how dare you write about a sick child without parental permission. It is repugnant”. The editor said that the information that formed the basis of the report was in the public domain and while she did not believe that Evoke.ie had acted wrongly or inappropriately, she deleted the article.
In response to the mother’s formal complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman the editor sent a letter to her apologising for the distress caused. When the mother did not accept the editor’s apology Evoke.ie submitted a formal response to the complaint under the Code of Practice. It defended the publication of the article and said that it did not believe that it had breached the Code of Practice. It said that the Instagram account had been wholly open and could be viewed by anyone on the internet, and that it was made “relatively private” only after publication of the article. It quoted Instagram’s terms of service to support its belief that no images were improperly obtained or published. It said that all of the information and images in the article were in the public domain already and had been put there by the complainant who, it said, had already sought and obtained publicity, including a newspaper interview, following a public event in which she had been previously involved.
As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
Evoke.ie relied entirely on an Instagram account for the images and information that formed the basis of the article. The fact that Evoke.ie was able to access an Instagram account (which the mother said was private and the publication said was not) did not give it any right to use the images or material without the mother’s consent. There is a public interest justification in Principle 3, but as the article referred to a private person and her very young daughter’s health there was no public interest whatsoever in publishing the article. The editor’s defence that the article was based on images and information in the public domain is not plausible unless the publication of the article could be regarded as being in the public interest. This was not the case and Principle 3 was breached.
This Principle requires the press to respect the private and family life of everyone. Evoke.ie breached this requirement. Its defence that it was able to access the Instagram account of the mother and therefore it was entitled to publish its article does not stand up to scrutiny. It is disturbing to consider that Evoke.ie did not feel any need to contact the mother in advance of publication to inform her of the planned article. Principle 5 also requires the press to show discretion at times of grief or shock. Evoke.ie by publishing the contents of the Instagram account did not show the mother of a very sick child any consideration whatsoever. Evoke.ie provided a justification for publication of the article on the basis that the mother had been involved in a public event some years earlier and that she had given an interview to a newspaper. The mother is a private person who was an entirely innocent victim of an act of violence some years earlier. There was no justification for publishing information about a subsequent private matter of the mother on the basis of her previous experience. Even if the mother could have been described as a “public person” and I would argue strongly that she couldn’t be described as such, there would be no justification in publishing information about her child. Principle 5.5 makes it clear that public persons also have rights to privacy in many circumstances.
Principle 9 requires the press to take particular care in seeking and presenting information … about a child. The article published by Evoke.ie was a breach of Principle 9. No consideration was given to the vulnerability of a very young child. Intimate details of her health and images of her with her parents and in hospital were published without any consideration of the child’s vulnerability. No effort was made to contact the parents in advance of publication to seek their approval. This was a major breach of Principle 9.
Other parts of the complaint were not upheld.
The mother also claimed that Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) and Principle 4 (Respect for Rights) had been breached. However, she offered no specific examples of how these Principles had been breached and therefore these parts of her complaint are not upheld.
3 April 2019