Alfie Patten: the PCC and payment to parents

February 16, 2009

The Press Com­plaints Com­mis­sion makes the fol­low­ing announce­ment regard­ing a child who is not Britain’s young­est-ever fath­er:

The Press Com­plaints Com­mis­sion has announced an inquiry into alleged pay­ments by The Sun and the People to the par­ents of Alfie Pat­ten.

Clause 6 (iv) of the Edit­ors’ Code of Prac­tice says:

Minors must not be paid for mater­i­al involving children’s wel­fare, nor par­ents or guard­i­ans for mater­i­al about their chil­dren or wards, unless it is clearly in the child’s interests”.

News­pa­pers are allowed to breach this rule if there is a demon­strable pub­lic interest. The PCC will make a pub­lic rul­ing on the mat­ter when it has com­pleted its invest­ig­a­tion. The Com­mis­sion has powers — under which it is con­duct­ing this inquiry — to launch invest­ig­a­tions of its own voli­tion.

The PCC isn’t known for launch­ing invest­ig­a­tions of its own voli­tion. Nor is it the kind of body one might think best con­sti­tuted to sit in judg­ment on what is clearly in a child’s interests…

And remem­ber, the PCC doesn’t ordin­ar­ily take com­plaints from third parties:

This is for a num­ber of reas­ons:

  1. Since our primary aim is to resolve com­plaints it would be impossible to know what the indi­vidu­al con­cerned would con­sider to be a suit­able res­ol­u­tion unless they them­selves com­plained.
  2. Before com­ing to any con­clu­sion about wheth­er or not the Code had been breached, the Com­mis­sion obvi­ously would need to see all rel­ev­ant inform­a­tion and to obtain each party’s point of view. This would be impossible if the informed view of one side was absent.
  3. The Com­mis­sion respects that people have an abso­lute right not to com­plain, which might be for any num­ber of reas­ons. In fact, the Com­mis­sion could argu­ably breach someone’s pri­vacy under the Human Rights Act by insist­ing on invest­ig­at­ing an art­icle about them without their con­sent.
  4. It would be impossible for the PCC or a third party to tell from an art­icle wheth­er the sub­ject has co-oper­ated with the piece. It could cause embar­rass­ment to the per­son con­cerned if an invest­ig­a­tion was launched into an art­icle about them and the Com­mis­sion dis­covered that, while the art­icle did not make this clear at the request of the sub­ject, the source of the piece was the sub­ject them­selves.

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