Decision of the Complaints Committee -- 00026-20 Fleet v Plymouth Herald
Summary of Complaint
1. Karen Fleet complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Plymouth Herald breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 9 (Reporting of crime), Clause 12 (Discrimination) and Clause 14 (Confidential sources) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Pub landlord subjected to online abuse”, published on 1 January 2020.
2. The article reported the account of a landlord who described his experiences dealing with a landlady of another pub, who he claimed had posted several Facebook comments and statuses, and had sent messages about him, which he considered used homophobic and abusive language. The article reported that the landlord said that he had refused the landlady entry to his pub as he had “considered her to be under the influence of alcohol” and that she then became abusive. The article then went on to describe the Facebook posts, of which the publication claimed it had “seen and [had] copies of a number”. The article described posts which it said included statuses on the woman’s wall, comments and messages in which she had described the landlord as “not just a faggot – he’s a drama queen faggot” and a “fairy”. The article also reported that the landlord said that he had made a formal complaint to the police about the abuse “which he believed could be considered a hate crime.” The print version of the article did not name the landlady concerned, nor did it name her pub.
3. The article also appeared online under the headline “Landlord said he suffered homophobic abuse after barring pub manager”. The online article included the name of the landlady who was alleged to have abused the landlord, and it named the pub she managed. It also made clear that some of the Facebook messages were directed at the landlord’s bar manager and included further examples of these messages. It also stated that “Plymouth Live contacted [named public house] to ask [the landlady] for comment about her Facebook comments and the incident, but a gentleman replied that ‘her response was “no comment”’.”
4. The complainant, the landlady in the article, said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. She said that she had not been drunk or abusive when trying to enter the landlord's pub, but that she had been rudely told she could not enter, and she had moved on. She also said it was inaccurate to report that she had sent homophobic abuse online. She did accept that she had called the landlord a “faggot” to her friends in a Facebook comment and that she had posted other statuses about him. She did not dispute that she had posted the statuses which were described in the article, including comments she had made on other posts in which she called the landlord "not just a faggot - he's a drama queen faggot" and sent messages to him calling him a "bloody faggot"; that it was a "good job you weren't there - I'm impressed I didn't deck the tw*t" and "bring it on you fairy. F***ing loyal to that c**t? Your [sic] nuts. She said that some of the messages had been private messages that had been screenshotted, but that others were statuses and comments which were removed by Facebook due to their content.
5. The complainant also said that the article was inaccurate because it failed to give her side of the story. She said that she had spoken to members of her staff and no one had taken a call from the publication, or said that she had “no comment”, and therefore the online article was also inaccurate in that regard. She said that she had been away at this time, and could not have told a member of her staff to tell the publication that she had no comment. She also said that the reporter could have tried to contact her via other methods, such as on social media. In addition, she had emailed the reporter after publication with her comment and he had failed to add it to the article.
6. The complainant said that the article breached Clause 2 as it named her and her business which had led to her receiving abusive messages and comments. It had also reported Facebook comments and messages that she had intended to be private and between friends, some of which were on her Facebook page, others which were private messages, but neither were intended to be public. She said that several of these had been screenshotted and sent to the other pub landlord.
7. The complainant said that the article breached Clause 9 as it said she was homophobic and that she had been reported to the police after committing a hate crime. In addition, it had breached Clause 12 because it had discriminated against her by naming her and her business in relation to a hate crime and homophobic actions, and the newspaper had breached Clause 14 as it had not corresponded with her prior to publication.
8. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said it had screenshots of the Facebook comments which it had reported, and noted that the complainant had not denied posting these comments.
9. The publication also said that it had tried to contact the complainant multiple times prior to publication. It had called her pub and left a message with the reporter’s name, phone number, the name of the paper and the incident it concerned but did not get a reply. It said it had called again the next day and a man had answered the phone and said “she has got the message and her response was no comment”. The publication provided notes of this conversation, and the previous call. On receipt of her complaint, the publication said it would publish a statement from the complainant with regards to the incident and the Facebook comments. Once the newspaper had the complaint referred by IPSO, it once again offered the complainant a right of reply.
Relevant Code Provisions
10. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.
iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
11. Clause 2 (Privacy)*
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.
ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
12. Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime)*
i) Relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story.
ii) Particular regard should be paid to the potentially vulnerable position of children under the age of 18 who witness, or are victims of, crime. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.
iii) Editors should generally avoid naming children under the age of 18 after arrest for a criminal offence but before they appear in a youth court unless they can show that the individual’s name is already in the public domain, or that the individual (or, if they are under 16, a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult) has given their consent. This does not restrict the right to name juveniles who appear in a crown court, or whose anonymity is lifted.
13. Clause 12 (Discrimination)
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
14. Clause 14 (Confidential sources)
Journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information.
Findings of the Committee
15. The online article had named the complainant and her business, whilst the print article had not. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that she had not been drunk or abusive when seeking entry to the landlord’s pub. However, the article had not reported this as fact and clearly attributed the claim to the landlord and reported that he had “considered her to be under the influence of alcohol”. In addition, the Committee found that the article had not stated that the complainant was guilty of committing a hate crime, but had reported the landlord’s belief that her actions “could be considered a hate crime”. These points did not represent inaccuracies requiring correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii).
16. As the complainant admitted to posting the Facebook comments reported in the article and that she had called the landlord a “faggot”, it was not misleading for the publication to have published the landlord’s position that they amounted to “homophobic abuse”. Prior to publication, the publication had seen copies of the Facebook posts and messages and the complainant did not dispute that they had been reported accurately; the publication had taken care in accordance with Clause 1(i), and no significant inaccuracy required correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii).
17. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern that the reporter had not attempted to contact her before the article was published. However, the complainant accepted that she had not been in her pub when the phone calls were alleged to have been made, and she was not in a position to say whether the publication had called. The publication had also provided notes of the two phone calls, which supported its position that a man had answered the phone and had said that the complainant did not want to comment. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the online article in breach of Clause 1(i) on this point. In addition, as the article was clearly presented as the personal account of the landlord, reporting that the complainant had made no comment was not significantly inaccurate as to require correction under Clause 1(ii).
18. The Committee did not consider that the omission of a statement from her rendered the article misleading given that the claims were clearly presented as the account of the landlord. In any case, the publication had demonstrated that it had attempted to contact the complainant pre-publication, and had offered her the opportunity to provide comments for publication on receipt of her complaint. There was no breach of Clause 1.
19. The Committee noted that the complainant and her pub had been named in the online version of the article. However, her name and business was not information about which she had an expectation of privacy. The publication had quoted Facebook statuses and comments she had made, some of which appeared on a private page. However, the complainant accepted that these comments and messages had been screenshotted and sent to the landlord and several other people, including the publication. Further, the messages and comments that were published contained no private information about the complainant, and were not information about which the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy. There was no breach of Clause 2.
20. Clause 9 relates to the identification of the friends and family of individuals who are accused or convicted of crime. As no such individuals were identified in the article, the clause was not engaged and there was no breach.
21. Clause 12 is designed to protect identifiable individuals from discrimination based on their race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or any physical or mental illness or disability. The complainant’s concerns that the article accused her of homophobia and committing a hate crime was not one of the characteristics protected by Clause 12, and there was no breach.
22. Clause 14 relates to the moral obligation of journalists to protect their confidential sources of information. Not contacting the complainant directly prior to the article being published was not a breach of Clause 14.
23. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date received: 02/01/2020
Date concluded by IPSO: 21/04/2020
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