A married couple complained to the Press Complaints Commission through the charity Mermaids that two articles headlined "Boy, 12, turns into girl" and "Now boy, 9, is girl", published in The Sun on 18 September 2009 and 19 September 2009 respectively, contained inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) and intruded into their daughter's private life in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors' Code of Practice.
The complaint was upheld.
Separate complaints under Clauses 3 (Privacy), 4 (Harassment), 6 (Children) and 12 (Discrimination) were not upheld. A further complaint from a second couple through Mermaids was also not upheld.
The complainants' child was born as a boy but had begun to behave as a girl from an early age. At 8, her parents allowed her to live as a girl at home. She then moved from primary to secondary school and her name was changed. Following incidents of teasing, the secondary school held a meeting with other children to explain her new situation. After this, some parents of the children had discussed the matter online and threats had been made against the family. The 18 September article reported the story - without naming the family - and a further article appeared the next day.
The complainants said that the article was inaccurate when it stated that their daughter was "preparing for sex swap surgery". There were other inaccuracies in the piece in regard to: the child's uniform; what she wore for swimming lessons; her hairstyle and accessories; the colour of her micro-scooter; and the provision of toilet facilities in both schools. These points gave a misleading impression of the child. The complainants also said that the newspaper had passed on their contact details without consent to a TV production company, which then wrote requesting an interview.
The newspaper said that the child now looked, acted and wished to be treated as a girl and was in that sense "preparing" for surgery. The other points did not appear to be significant, but it offered to publish a correction and apology on them. The newspaper accepted that it had passed on the complainants' details to the TV production company. The subsequent approach had been made by letter only and no interview had taken place.
The Commission agreed that the cumulative effect of the inaccuracies served to give a misleading impression of the girl's appearance and behaviour at the school. This was unacceptable and the newspaper should have taken greater care when publishing details of such a vulnerable child. This raised a breach of Clause 1 of the Code.
In addition, the newspaper had passed on the family's details to a third party - therefore identifying the child - at a time when it had been specifically informed that further contact from the media was unwelcome. Given that the newspaper had recognised the need to avoid naming the child publicly, the decision to identify her to a third party (who would not otherwise have known who she was) was clearly an error. The paper had shown a failure to respect her private and family life in breach of Clause 3 of the Code.
The Sun really can't seem to get its facts straight when it reports on children - first the Alfie Patten fiasco, which the paper got nowhere near the amount of criticism it should have had for claiming that he'd fathered a child when he had not - now this, getting almost every factual detail about the girl's life at school completely wrong. It would be interesting to know who this third party was that the Sun released the name of the child to, just to see whether there was potential collusion between broadcasters owned or co-owned by the same parent company as the Sun, but that's a detail stricken from the record. Naming and shaming it seems is all right for paedophiles and criminals, but not newspapers that breach the PCC's code.
The punishment for these serious breaches of the code? Err, no apology whatsoever it seems, just the publishing of the adjudication as is always required. Would be interesting to know on what page it features, especially considering as if I remember correctly both of these reports featured on the front page of the paper. Is it any wonder that so many turn to our learned friends for recompense when the PCC's rulings are so pathetically weak?