News site rebuked for posting school film

A pupil whose contribution to a classroom debate on water charges was published online has had a complaint upheld by the Press Ombudsman.

The news website’s reporter had permission to film the class during a ministerial visit but Ombudsman Peter Feeney ruled that the issue’s sensitivity meant personal consent should have been sought before using the segment.

Concerns about the way children featured in newspapers comprised 4% of the 278 complaints to the Press Ombudsman last year but made up four of the 10 cases which were upheld.

Mr Feeney appealed to journalists to be aware of their “considerable responsibility to children’s interests”.

He was speaking at the publication of the Press Council’s annual report where Council chairman, Daithí O’Ceallaigh, also warned of the challenges posed by online news sites.

Mr O’Ceallaigh said the ‘comment’ sections which follow articles presented particular challenges because of the lack of controls.

“This is an area that’s very difficult, very complex and sometimes quite unpleasant,” he said. “It is an area where members of the public are going to find difficulties so we need to think how we can handle this.”

He also said written reports on radio and TV websites are not covered by the Press Council or the Broadcasting Authority so there is nowhere to complain to.

Ombudsman Peter Feeney
Ombudsman Peter Feeney

Concerns were also expressed about the damage caused to paid-for journalism by social media.

Mr Feeney said the tailoring of news content on social media sites to match the interests of the user meant “users only get the news they want to hear”.

“This has serious implications for the ideal of informed citizens making objective choices,” he said.

The tailoring of content to reflect users’ online purchases was also “a real worry for anyone who believes that prioritising news stories must not be contaminated by any commercial considerations.”

Guest Roy Greenslade, journalism professor at London City University, said social media would eventually kill newspapers but he said it should not destroy journalism.

Mr O’Ceallaigh also appealed for reform of libel payouts in the courts, suggesting that juries should decide cases but judges should assess damages which he said had become excessive. Mr Greenslade criticised publishers who take libel cases, saying it opposes the principle of press freedom.

Of the 278 complaints made last year, 133 were outside the Ombudsman’s remit; 79 were referred for publishers to resolve; and 34 were decided by the Ombudsman, who upheld 10, relating mainly to privacy, children, and accuracy.


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