PCCIn the first ruling of its kind, the Press Complaints Commission has criticised a local newspaper for publishing controversial mobile phone footage carried on its website.

The adjudication marks the industry watchdog's entry into the thorny area of multimedia material and citizen-generated content.

The PCC has cut its teeth by upholding a complaint against the Hamilton Advertiser for not taking enough care to protect the identities of school pupils.

In late March, the South Lanarkshire paper ran a story in both its print and online editions showing chaotic classroom scenes at the town's John Ogilvie High School.

A 16-year-old pupil, to illustrate to her parents the lack of discipline that was accounting for her poor grades, filmed the footage of an unruly maths lesson.

Stills from the footage appeared in a story headline "Nicola films class after her parents snap over report", and the unedited footage was posted on the newspaper’s website.

The president of the school's parent teacher association lodged a complaint with the PCC, which found itself in having to rule on video images for the first time.

While the watchdog accepted there was a public interest in running the story, it rapped the paper for not doing more to protect the identities of those involved, who were filmed without their knowledge, or permission, and were clearly recognisable.

"Steps should have been taken to conceal their identity or to obtain proper consent. Not doing so amounted to an unnecessary intrusion into the pupils' time at school in breach of Clause 6," said the PCC in its verdict, referring to the section of the Code of Conduct that governs reporting on children.

The rise of media-rich websites and the heavy promotion of citizen-generated content in a bid to engage falling newspaper readerships has forced the PCC to respond, which it did with new guidelines issued in February that extended its remit include audiovisual material.

"What it reveals is that the code of practice functions both for AV material as well as hard copy photographs," said a PCC spokesman.

Both the Scottish Sun and the Scottish Daily Mirror also published still photos taken from the classroom footage, in which the faces of children were blurred. The Scottish Daily Mirror deliberately obscured one image, while the Scottish Sun did not use images in which pupils were recognisable.

In both these cases, the complaint was not upheld by the PCC. The Hamilton Advertiser is due to publish an apology on Wednesday morning.

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