Friday, December 11, 2009

Should we publish pictures of children in bus crash?

Today's horrific bus crash in Leicester left us worrying about privacy issues for what seemed like the umpteenth time this week.

You might think it would be fairly straightforward when it comes to covering a big public news item like a bus crash, but we spent some time looking at pictures and discussing the issues before making our decision.

In case you haven't seen or read the story, a double decker bus carrying more than 50 children and teachers ran into a low bridge in Lancaster Road, shearing off much of the top deck. In what really was a miraculous escape, nobody was seriously injured and by tea time, even the 10 people taken to hospital for treatment were allowed home.

The decision we were discussing was which pictures to use in tomorrow's paper. The Mercury's photographers arrived shortly after the emergency services and we had a large choice of shots. Many of them showed the bus and the damage, but there were also quite a lot of the children being comforted by various adults. The question was this: should we use pictures showing the faces of the children involved?

There is no legal reason why we shouldn't, it was more an ethical or moral discussion.

We turned to the Press Complaints Commission's Code of Conduct for guidance. There are three sections of paragraph 6 that might be relevant:
i) Young people should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.

ii) A child under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child’s welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.

iii) Pupils must not be approached or photographed at school without the permission of the school authorities.
However, we decided that none of these was really relevant, particularly as we felt the reference to a child's welfare was probably intended to cover issues around court cases rather than this sort of incident. We did not believe that the use of the pictures would in any way harm the welfare of the children. Add to this the fact that the children were actually from Nottingham and, therefore, unlikely to be recognised by anybody in Leicester and we made our decision to publish the picture you see on this page. We also discussed the tone of our coverage and as it was to be of a supportive nature, we felt this also made our decision easier.

It will be interesting to see how our readers react to our decision.