Keeping your news safe and legal

Lady Justice, Old Bailey
Image caption All journalists have to work within the law

This guide outlines the issues which teachers taking part in BBC News School Report must consider before putting students' work on a website.

When you put stories on your website, the BBC links to it via the School Report map - so you really are broadcasting your work. And that means you need to comply with media law the same way any other broadcasters do.

Most newspapers and media organisations have teams of lawyers to help make fine judgements about contentious stories: your school may well not have the same resources.

But don't panic! Reading through this page of background information and applying some common sense should be enough to keep you the right side of the law - and keep all your pupils safe.

Image caption Keeping on the right side of the law will keep all your pupils safe and happy

If students have followed activities relating to the law in the School Report lesson plans or pick and mix sections, they should have a good idea of what they should and shouldn't report, but teachers should still check and - if necessary - amend their work before it is published online.

This double-checking (or "subbing") is what happens in media offices around the world, so it's a very authentic part of the School Report project.

No BBC webpage should ever be published without at least two pairs of eyes having read the story, and it's a good rule to follow in the classroom too. You can read our guide featuring top tips for sub-editing for more detailed advice.

And why not get your students to have a go at these two quizzes - writing news and running a News Day? They both cover areas relating to legal issues and should help get students thinking about some of the important issues involved.

As the broadcaster, the school is responsible for content published on the school website. The following guidance provides a good grounding and the School Report team - - may also be able to help.


  • Child Protection - no surnames
  • Taste and Decency - don't report anything which makes you uncomfortable
  • Defamation - report the facts, not rumours
  • Criminal Law - avoid crime stories
  • Copyright - only use your own photos, music etc
  • Privacy - ask yourself: If that were me, would I want it recorded and broadcast?


Only use children's FIRST names

One of the main aims of the project is to give students a real audience for their work, and many will obviously want to publish their names alongside their reports.

However, for child protection reasons, schools must not publish the surname of someone under the age of 18 on the web pages relating to School Report.

This is to minimise the risk of a stranger identifying and locating a child.

Given that traffic to the school website is likely to increase, by virtue of a link from the BBC website, schools that use children's surnames on other pages on the school website might like to reconsider their policy.

The no-surname rule also applies to blog entries and comments posted on the web pages relating to School Report.

Obtain parental consent for ALL children

It is the school's responsibility to obtain the signed consent of the parents or guardians of the students taking part in the project AND any other children appearing on the web pages relating to School Report.

The BBC School Report team provide a model form to send to parents and a head teacher consent form, which should be returned to the BBC once all parental consent has been gained. But completed parental consent forms should be kept at school.

Accompany BBC staff in the classroom

The School Report team take child protection very seriously. All mentors have a basic criminal record disclosure and undertake training in accordance with the BBC's guidelines on child protection.

We ask that schools always ensure BBC staff are accompanied and do not use children's surnames in their reports. We also require parental consent for all children taking part in the project

However, they should not be left alone with students, in the same way that any adult who is not a teacher at the school should not be unaccompanied.

Image caption BBC staff should not be left alone with students

Contact should be maintained via the teacher so students should not ask BBC staff for their personal details, such as a phone number or email address, or give them their own details.

Risk assessments will be undertaken for all BBC activities and students will not be directed by BBC staff to do anything which would compromise their safety.


Don't report anything which makes you uncomfortable

Some subjects might be considered inappropriate for children to cover, for example stories involving sex, violence and swearing.

Views differ greatly, so teachers should be able to justify publishing a report should there be any complaints. They should also refer to their own school policies in this area and consider the age of the children involved.

While a contentious story might be absolutely acceptable for an experienced journalist on Newsnight to report on late in the evening, it will sound very different if the reporting is done by a class of 11-year-olds in the classroom so think through the likely consequences of covering particular topics.

Students may wish to report subjects such as natural disasters or the anniversary of a bombing. Some teachers may deem this to be upsetting while others may regard this as part-and-parcel of making the news.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The attacks in Paris have made for some distressing images

It is worth remembering that what may be fine as a class discussion will seem rather different when published on a website which the public - including friends, parents and relatives - can access.

Teachers should also take into account the tone of a report. It would be inappropriate, for example, for a student to report a tragic accident in a light-hearted manner.

The risk of imitative behaviour should also be taken into account. Consider, for example, whether a report about drugs would enable children to glean inappropriate information about buying, preparing or taking illegal substances.


Report the facts, NOT rumours

Unless they can prove it is true, students should not report anything which would damage someone's reputation. After all, they would not like to be bad-mouthed themselves.

If someone makes a legal complaint that they have been defamed, the school could be taken to court. Without sufficient evidence to prove the truth of a report, the school may be ordered to pay compensation.

The libel law in the UK places the onus on the defendant to prove the truth of what they have reported. Ask yourself whether you could do this, especially if the original story is taken from other media sources.

In particular, students should treat "celeb gossip" with care. Just because it's in the news, it doesn't mean it's true!

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Cristiano Ronaldo was libelled by a British newspaper

There are many instances of media companies being heavily fined. For example, in November 2010, former Manchester United footballer Cristiano Ronaldo was awarded substantial damages after a newspaper admitted making untrue claims about his behaviour while recovering from injury.

Using the phrase "according to..." does not put the school in the clear in the eyes of the law. Each repetition of a defamatory statement is treated as a fresh case.

And using "allegedly..." doesn't help either. Someone might still think less of a person who had "allegedly lied". It may not be as bad as calling them a liar, without proof, but it would still be defamatory.

Report controversial issues with balance

The law surrounding defamation is not, however, designed to prevent the reporting of controversial news.

Such issues often make the most interesting reports, as long as they fairly represent both sides of an argument.

Express your opinion in reviews, NOT in news

A journalist's main job is to present the facts in an impartial way. But while they should not should not express their own views in a news report, their opinion is a necessary part of a review.

Reviewers are allowed to have strong views. Reporting that you thought an actor's "performance was unconvincing because he was far too old for the part" for example, would not be defamatory, as long as:

  • You watched the film - you can't pass someone's thoughts off as your own
  • Your opinion was honestly-held - you are not just saying it to make the review more exciting
  • Your opinion was based on fact - you would need to include evidence of the actor's age and the age of his role


Avoid crime stories

Journalists undergo a significant amount of legal training before they report stories about crime, while many also have in-house legal teams to assist with borderline judgements.

Students may wish to report high-profile murders or robberies, but the safest option for School Reporters is to avoid them completely.

The law around reporting crime is very complicated and, among other considerations, journalists must:

  • Avoid prejudicing members of a jury
  • Protect the identity of children who appear in youth courts
  • Protect the identity of victims of sexual offences

By reporting on ongoing cases, students could inadvertently fall foul of contempt of court laws. Criminal cases have collapsed or forced to go to retrials because of contempt of court in the media, so it is a very serious matter.


Only use YOUR OWN photos, music etc

If you take a photograph or compose a piece of music, you have the right to say how it is used. A person who makes a copy of someone else's work and uses it without their permission is breaking the law.

Copyright law protects material such as photos, video, sound recordings, writing, music, song lyrics and drawings. Breaking the law could result in a heavy fine.

When you publish content on a school website, you must make sure you have the right to use it. The safest option is to make all the content yourself, then you own the copyright and you can determine how it is used.

However, the BBC has gained permission for School Reporters to use:

  • The music which introduces the BBC News. This will be sent via email for all participating schools to download and use.
  • Photographs which appear on BBC News web pages (but not other BBC web pages or sites) which have one of the following credits in the bottom right-hand corner: PA, AFP, Getty or Reuters. If students crop these images, they must reinstate the credit

In both cases (ie using the music and/or photos from the BBC News website), the material must be on pages that are clearly labelled as being part of the School Report project and the photos must be used directly for your School Report work. Any issues that do arise should be reported to the School Report team.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Try to make your own music - then you own the copyright

Even though School Report is a BBC project, the school cannot use any other material from the BBC website. Material on the site is often owned by someone else and the BBC has limited rights to use it - sometimes so limited that it can't even be used by another part of the BBC!

You should also avoid photographing a poster or recording students singing song lyrics, if you intend to publish them on the web.

The copyright belongs to, in these cases, the poster company and the composer - and copying their work without their permission could be breaking the law.

Copying for education versus copying for broadcast

Teachers are permitted to copy some materials for educational purposes, but they do not have this privilege when it comes to publishing them on the internet.

Obtain permission for review extracts

The law allows you to use a small extract of a film, book, song etc in a review, but there are restrictions on how much you can use and for how long it can remain on a website.

The safest option is to obtain permission to use an extract, and if you can't to avoid using it.


Ask yourself: If that were me, would I want it recorded?

The law says that everyone has the right to keep some information about themselves, and their family, private. So, for example, you wouldn't film in someone's home, record their phone conversations or publish their emails without their permission.

The Human Rights Act (1998) introduced into British law the European Convention on Human Rights, which states: "Everyone has the right for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence."

But people in public places can't expect the same degree of privacy as in their own homes.

Image caption You will need permission to film in shopping malls

What if, for example, you were filming in a street and you captured someone receiving medical treatment? There are some circumstances where people can reasonably expect privacy in a public place. Ask yourself: If that were me, would I want it recorded?

Look closely at your footage when you get back to school as you may have captured something like this in the background, without realising it at the time.

If you are recording or taking photographs in a public place, you should do your best to make it obvious, to give people the choice of walking in front of, or behind, the camera. This is particularly important if you are using small cameras, mobile phones or webcams. In such cases, you might need to use notices to let people know what you are doing.

Before setting off to record in a "public" place, double check that it's not privately owned. For example, you might need to obtain permission before recording in shopping malls, railway stations or airports.

  • Please note that this guide is by no means exhaustive. BBC journalists need to adhere to a 368-page book covering legal and other editorial issues - but the guidance offered here should cover the areas you are most likely to experience through School Report.
  • If you are in doubt, it's generally better to play safe. And you can always get in touch with the School Report team for guidance.

For more information, BBC College of Journalism's site offers a guide to the law and court reporting as well as some of the major differences across the UK nations which will ensure you have a detailed understanding of the law and how it affects journalism.

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