IPSO Blog: Anonymous Complaints

Complaints Officer Alice Gould explains why IPSO does not take anonymous complaints and the circumstances in which we may publish anonymous rulings.

IPSO’s complaints process allows members of the public to complain about potential breaches of the Editors’ Code by regulated newspapers and magazines. When making a complaint, we ask people to provide their name and contact details (usually an email address), an explanation of how they think the Code has been breached and a link to or copy of the article in question. 

However, what if a complainant wishes to complain anonymously? 

IPSO does receive requests from people who want to make a complaint anonymously. Although few in number, complainants often cite concerns regarding their privacy as a reason for requesting this. While we do understand that for some people it may be daunting, there are good reasons why IPSO needs to know the identity of any person making a complaint. 

Why does IPSO need to know who is making a complaint? 

In order to assess your complaint, we need to know what your position is in relation to the article, for example, are you the subject of the story or are you quoted or referenced? Whilst there are some points of fact that anyone can complain about, there are certain types of complaint where it would not be appropriate to take forward a complaint unless the person involved is an affected party. 

In some cases, people who make complaints already have in mind how they would like to resolve it, for example, a correction. At the beginning of the IPSO process, we allow both parties the opportunity to correspond and try to sort out the complaint quickly and easily to complainant’s satisfaction. In order for this to happen, we need to share your complaint and contact information with the publication. However, you can request for your details not to be shared if you do not want this. 

Where there has been a possible breach of the Editors’ Code, IPSO will investigate a complaint. In order to do so transparently, both IPSO and the publication will correspond with the complainant. Without knowing who IPSO or the publication are corresponding with, it may be impossible to obtain fair redress or reach balanced conclusions. For instance, without knowing the complainant it would difficult to ask the publication for notes or recordings that they have that are relevant to the complaint. 

How does IPSO protect my privacy? 

We take people’s privacy rights extremely seriously and although the person who makes a complaint will be identified to IPSO and the publication, the process is entirely confidential and no details will ever be shared externally. The information given during this process may only be used for the purpose of pursuing a complaint. No emails, or personal data, can be shared outside of the complainant, publication, and IPSO. 

Are there circumstances where I could be anonymous? 

Where IPSO does investigate and rule on a complaint, we publish our ruling online under the complainant’s name and with a description of the complainant’s connection to the story. Of course, there are some occasions where this would not be appropriate. 

There are certain circumstances in which anonymity will automatically be granted, for example: 

  • Complaints where a complainant has a legal right to anonymity 
  • Complaints which relate to potentially intrusive or private material about a child, who has not previously been identified, and where naming the complainant would identify the child 
  • Complaints where the complainant has made a similar complaint in the past which relates to a similar issue and has been granted anonymity by the Complaints Committee. 

Other requests for anonymity are considered on a case-by-case basis. IPSO’s Complaints Committee will grant anonymity and redact names of third parties and information about which the complainant has a reasonable expectation of privacy. When deciding whether a complaint should be published anonymously, the Complaints Committee considers the following factors: 

  • Whether the subject matter of the complaint includes information about the complainant which is private or personally sensitive, could cause the complainant distress or gratuitous embarrassment, or could otherwise cause harm to the complainant (e.g. harming their relationship with an employer) 
  • Whether the complaint could identify the complainant as a confidential source of information. 
  • Whether inclusion of the complainant’s name in the decision could cause significant harm to a third party 
  • Whether inclusion of the complainant’s name in the decision could represent a specific threat to their security. 

If you have any questions about anonymity, you can ask the Complaints Officer who is handling your complaint for further help and information. 

You can also find out how we protect your privacy and how we comply with all relevant laws when processing your personal data in our data privacy notice.

Originally published 24 July 2020.