Northern Echo editor Peter Barron says his paper has decided not to cover primary school events in Middlesbrough after head teachers brought in a new policy that pupils should not be named in the media because of fears that paedophiles could use the information to target children.
Barron writes on his blog: "Publishing names of children in newspapers to celebrate their achievements has been established practice in local newspapers for generations
"Sadly, that innocent tradition is under threat because the dangers posed by the internet are being taken out of context.Last week, one of our photographers turned up at St Clare’s Primary School in Middlesbrough to cover a positive story about a successful road safety initiative.
"But the photographer was told it is now the policy of all primary schools in Middlesbrough not to give names of children to newspapers."
Barron adds: "A check with Middlesbrough Council confirmed that primary heads, without any consultation with the local media, had taken that decision because of fears that paedophiles could use the information to target children.
"The internet can be a scary place and I understand the concerns which lie behind the decision. I also fully appreciate that it is a decision taken because it is genuinely thought to be in the interests of child safety. I have come across individual schools which have adopted such a policy but never every school in a borough.
"But I also consider it to be a move which is disproportionate, ill-judged and very sad. There is no evidence that paedophiles are using newspapers and their associated websites to groom children.
The danger has to be kept in perspective.
"The positives of reporting children’s names in the context of their achievements hugely outweigh the negatives. Publicity gives young people confidence, is a source of pride, and inspires them to aim higher."
Barron argues: "There are times – swimming galas being an example – where there is an argument for names not to be published alongside pictures, especially online. But a blanket ban is the wrong way to go.
"The consequence is that The Northern Echo will regrettably not be covering primary school events in Middlesbrough until there is at least a discussion about the issue."
- Bans on the press taking pictures of pupils at events like sports days was a big issue several years ago with the Society of Editors and Newspaper Society warning there could be a whole generation of children who would not be covered in the local press because of exaggerated fears about paedophiles. In 2004 the then Education Secretary Charles Clarke said his department had not issued advice to schools restricting the press photographing pupils for fear of attracting paedophiles. He said some schools had "misinterpreted" guidance given by the Department of Education and Skills about schools using video and photographs of their own pupils for publicity purposes.
- SoE executive director, Bob Satchwell, supported Peter Barron’s decision saying: "We thought we had won this battle a decade ago. While recognising the need to protect children it is important that their successes and achievements are recognised. If children are not named a whole generation could be forgotten."