Thursday, 19 July 2012

MailOnline and a photo of a nine-year-old girl in tears

From the Street of Shame column in issue 1318 of Private Eye:

“I believe absolutely that one of the main responsibilities of the new regulatory system should be to ensure that the editors’ code is followed both in spirit and the letter by all newspapers, magazines and, importantly, their online versions,” said Paul Dacre in his submission to the Leveson inquiry.

The Mail editor was referring to the Press Complaints Commission’s code and opining on how the press should be regulated. But one morning’s evidence at the end of last month revealed how well that works out in practice when it comes to Dacre’s own domain. 

Crying and holding a bunch of flowers
Media lawyer Giles Crown gave evidence on behalf of Edward Bowles, whose 11-year-old son Sebastian was one of the 28 people, most of them children, who were killed in a coach crash in Switzerland in March. On 15 March, the family were preparing to visit the scene of the crash when an agency photographer took a long-lens photograph of their nine-year-old daughter Helena, who was crying and holding a bunch of flowers she planned to leave at the site of her brother’s death. 

The photograph, captioned “Relatives of victims leave the hotel”, clearly violated clauses 3 (privacy), 5 (intrusion into grief or shock) and 6 (children) of the editors’ code of which Dacre is so fond – and yet the only UK newspaper to use it was the Daily Mail, on its website MailOnline.

Picture kept up for more than three months
The following day Mr Crown, a friend of the Bowles family, contacted both the PCC and editors, including Paul Dacre, on their behalf, to request that “all private photographs of the family… are removed immediately from all media websites, and there is no further publication whatsoever of any such photographs. In particular, there must be no more taking or publication of any photographs of Helena.” 

After a follow-up email sent to “two individuals at the Mail and a general editor’s or news email address as well” two days later, the paper did agree to remove some photographs it had acquired from Mr Bowles’s Facebook account. The picture of the distressed nine-year-old, however, was kept up for more than three months. 

While the inquiry was only able to establish that it had been available online until 19 June, the Eye can reveal that it was only finally pulled from the paper’s website at 11.32am on 25 June – precisely 24 hours before Lord Justice Leveson was due to hear evidence about the case. That evening, Mail managing editor Alex Bannister wrote to the Bowles family to apologise and to point out that at least “this photograph was not published in the Daily Mail” – where it would have been viewed by a mere 1.9m readers, as opposed to the 91.7m monthly users the website boasts. He also claimed that it had been “removed from our website as soon as we became aware that its subject was Helena”. 

The Mail’s excuse was that it thought the paparazzo snap might instead have been of a different, foreign under-ten grieving for their lost sibling. So that’s all right, then.

(The Guardian's report on Giles Crown's evidence to Leveson is here.)

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