Thursday, 2 July 2009

Alfie Patten: Advice from PCC instead of inquiry

MediaGuardian is reporting today that the Press Complaints Commission has dropped its inquiry over press payments to those involved in the Alfie Patten story - the so called 13-year-old dad.
MediaGuardian says that instead of an inquiry,the PCC has issued the following advice to editors:
"The commission reminds editors that only 'an exceptional public interest' can justify making a payment which is not deemed likely to be the interests of the child."
The PCC told editors that they must ask themselves three questions before publishing:
• Is the payment alone responsible for tempting parents to discuss a matter about their child that it would be against the child's interests to publicise? If so, only an exceptional public interest reason could justify proceeding with the arrangement.
• Is there any danger that the offer of payment would tempt parents to exaggerate or even fabricate the information?
• Is the payment in the child's interest?
In addition, MediaGuardian says the PCC told editors that just because parents were happy to publish information about their children, this did not mean that the watchdog would not censure editors who ran a story.
"While accepting that parents have a right to freedom of expression, the commission emphasises that editors must come to an independent judgment as to whether publication of information – and the payment involved for the material – is in the child's interest.
"On some occasions, this will mean – where there is an insufficient public interest in the story – that payment should not be made, even if the parents are happy for the story to be published."
The Alfie story became almost impossible to cover after restrictions were imposed on reporting by the High Court. A paternity test later proved Alfie was not the daddy.
Among the papers that were being investigated by the PCC were The Sun and The People.
When I was doing some work for Press Gazette I did a story about how child protection officers from East Sussex County Council had contacted the PCC because of their "serious concern" about the way Alfie was being treated by the media.
New PCC guidance is here

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