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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