Chaff-Heads on cover page

20 January 1999

EPC discussed a complaint made by the president of the Estonian Union for Child Welfare concerning the cover picture of the newsmagazine Luup vol. 20 of 5 October 1998.

The Union for Child Welfare finds the picture (depicting a boy with an opened skull full of chaff viewed backwards) with the caption “Where do ’chaff-heads’ grow? 50 worst schools in Estonia” depreciatory towards the students of the named schools.

The chief editor of Luup Peeter Ernits states in his rebuttal that cover design is an independent branch of art and neither the Union for Child Welfare nor EPC is competent to assess it. According to Ernits the word “chaff-head” does not belong among offensive words. He says that the Union for Child Welfare should rather fight for the children’s right to get good education.

EPC is of the opinion that the cover designs of publications cannot be treated separately from the general evaluation criteria for journalism unless the cover design is just a reproduction of a work of art bearing no direct connection to the content of the magazine.

In the present case the cover design can above all be viewed as a reference to the magazine material as the picture is accompanied with text which refers directly to the article “All schools in Kunda are bad” as well as the included table of 50 worst schools. Therefore EPC finds that the magazine has associated the word “chaff-head” with the students of the school mentioned in the magazine.

In order to find out if the cover design could offend children, EPC carried out an opinion poll in one of the mentioned 50 schools interviewing 64 students from grade 9 - 11 and also talked to the teachers. The majority of students found the picture in the given context offensive. And this even before the interviewed students were told that the picture symbolized the school results also in their school.

Based on the results of the poll EPC concluded that the cover picture in the context of the article is offensive towards the students as well as the teachers and thus Luup has breached Clause 1.5 of the Code of Ethics (the reputation of any individual shall not be unduly harmed) as well as violated good journalistic practice.

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