The media have been warned off treating social media postings as public material where children are involved.
Press Ombudsman Peter Feeney said one in eight complaints received by his office last year referred to children and he reminded journalists that the Press Council’s code of practice expressly required them to have regarded to the vulnerability of minors.
“With the growth in usage of digital media such as Facebook and Twitter, more and more personal information and comment on and by children is easily accessible,” he said.
“Journalists must not take the view that just because information about children is available digitally it can be published in newspapers and magazines unilaterally.”
Teenagers’ Facebook sites and other social media postings have increasingly been used by them to post tributes and other comments when a tragedy or other significant event has taken place among their peers.
Mr Feeney warned that the code of practice on privacy had to be applied “with additional vigour” when children were involved.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, who attended the publication of the joint annual report by the Press Council and Press Ombudsman, said children themselves had to be made more aware of the risks of posting personal information online.
“Sometimes they put up very private images, personal images about themselves showing themselves and then these images can be taken by unscrupulous people and used, for example by paedophile networks,” she said.
“We really have to get the message out to young children and young adults: Be very careful what you put up online because it can be abused, it can be kept forever online and you can be very vulnerable as a result of it.”
Press Council chairman Daithi O’Ceallaigh announced an addition to the code of practice which requires journalists to avoid reporting excessive detail of the method of suicide in any given case.
He said the guidance had been issued out of concern about copycat suicides, but he stressed: “This new requirement should not inhibit the reporting on and analysis of issues around suicide.”
The Office of the Press Ombudsman and Press Council, which covers 110 national and regional newspapers and magazines and one online news publication, received 350 complaints last year but 111 of those fell outside the remit of the office and 150 were not pursued after initial contact and advice.
Of the remainder, 17 complaints were upheld; 14 were not upheld; and 16 remained under investigation at the end of the year; while 20 were resolved without need for formal ruling. There were 19 appeals to the Press Council, of which three were allowed.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved