Press Ombudsman upholds complaint by Julie and Robert Duhy

By admin
Friday, 2nd September 2016
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On 23 June the Press Ombudsman decided to uphold a complaint by Julie and Robert Duhy that the Irish Daily Star breached Principle 9 (Children) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.

On 24 February 2016 the Irish Daily Star reported that Julie Duhy on behalf of her child had sued Ralph Lauren Ireland Limited for the faulty manufacture of baby pants which had resulted in the child sustaining red wields on her thighs. Ralph Lauren agreed to pay €17,500 plus legal costs. The article was accompanied by two photographs of the child, one at play, the other with her mother.

In an email dated 28 April to the editor of the Irish Daily star Julie and Robert Duhy complained that the photographs of mother and daughter used to accompany the article had been obtained without permission.  They also complained that they found the article offensive, sensationalised and exploitive.  They complained about the publication of the child’s name and address and her GP’s name which they claimed “jeopardised her right to privacy as a minor and also placing her potentially in danger … and exposed her to various degrees of embarrassment in both school and at home, amongst neighbours and peers”. They requested that if the photographs were available online that they be taken down. In a subsequent email to the editor Mr and Mrs Duhy claimed that the article breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty) and Principle 9 (Children) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.

As Mr and Mrs Duhy received no response from the editor they made a formal complaint to the Press Ombudsman’s Office.

In his formal submission to the Press Ombudsman’s Office the editor of the Irish Daily Star stated his belief that the civil case had been in open court and the newspaper was entitled to report on the proceedings.  He also claimed that the images used were already in the public domain.

As the complaint could not be conciliated it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.

I am upholding the complaint on the grounds that the publication of the images of the child was a breach of Principle 9 of the Code of Practice. This Principle states that journalists and editors should have regard for the vulnerability of children. Irrespective of the lack of privacy provisions in the uploading of images to YouTube account has to be taken as to the purposes for which the Duhys uploaded the images of their daughter.  The usual purpose for uploading images of children is so that friends and families can see celebrations, family occasions, holidays, etc. The justification for a newspaper to publish these kinds of images is that they have obtained permission or if the images are in some way relevant to the outcome of court proceedings.  As the parents made no claim in court that their daughter had suffered any long term damages from the faulty baby pants I cannot see how the publication of images of a child at play some years after the event can be justified in this particular case. Therefore I have decided that the publication of these images is a failure to take account of the vulnerability of the child.

Other parts of the complaint were not upheld.

The complaint was also made that Principle 1 had been breached. In particular the parents objected to the use of the word “allegedly” in a sub-heading “Child allegedly scarred by baby pants”.  Mr and Mrs Duhy argued that as Ralph Lauren had paid compensation to their daughter the inclusion of the word “allegedly” was inaccurate as it implied that the case had not been proven.  I do not believe this breached Principle 1 as the chronology of the court case would have started with damages being alleged and the sub-heading could refer to proceedings prior to settlement.

In regard to the rest of the report published in the Irish Daily Star I believe the newspaper was entitled to report the outcome of the court proceedings in the manner in which it did as what was reported was a matter of public record.  I did not find the reporting inaccurate.  Nor was the reporting sensationalist. Parents who sue in open court on behalf their children can expect a degree of publicity and attention on their children. I do not think that the Irish Daily Star over-stepped the mark in its reporting of this case, only in its publication of the images of the child.

No evidence was provided to me that Principle 3 had been breached in the obtaining of the images published (Principle 3 refers to the manner in which images are obtained).

The publication appealed the Press Ombudsman’s decision to the Press Council of Ireland.

The Irish Daily Star appealed the decision on the grounds that the Press Ombudsman erred in his application of the Code of Practice.  The Press Council considered the appeal at its meeting on 2 September 2016 and decided that the Press Ombudsman did not err in his application of the Code and it therefore reaffirmed his decision.  The Council concurred that the protection accorded to children under Principle 9 of the Code was paramount in coming to its decision.