Decision of the Complaints Committee – 00027-20 Moses v walesonline.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Sian Moses complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that walesonline.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Children's home youth worker touched married colleague's breast and boasted she could turn any woman gay, hearing told”, published on 26 November 2019, and an article headlined “Children's home youth worker used excessive force to restrain vulnerable teenagers, hearing told”, published on 29 November 2019.
2. The first article reported on a hearing before the Fitness to Practice Committee of the Education Workforce Council into allegations made against a children’s home official that she had made sexual advances and comments towards another female, a married co-worker referred to as “Colleague A”, whilst on duty. The article contained a quote from the alleged victim “She said: "Moses began making inappropriate comments towards me like 'I could have you if I wanted you' and 'I can turn any woman gay'.” It also reported that “Moses argues that the roles were reversed and that it was Colleague A who made the advances towards her.” The article also included a photo of the children’s home official walking down the street. After this article was published, the Fitness to Practice Committee of the Education Workforce Council found the children’s home official’s behaviour did not amount to unacceptable professional conduct.
3. The second article also reported on the hearing, but the focus was on allegations that the official had used excessive force against children in the home. It also included the allegation that she had “boasted ‘I can turn any straight woman gay’” and her claim that she was the recipient of the unwanted advances.
4. The complainant, the children’s home official who was facing the allegations, said that the articles were inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. She said they inaccurately reported that she had said that she could “turn any woman gay”. It was, in fact, her colleagues who had said this, not her. She also said it was inaccurate to report that she had allegedly made sexual advances towards her colleague; in fact, she was the one who had received the unwanted sexual advances. The complainant also said it was inaccurate not to report that the colleague she had been accused of making advances toward was married to a woman; the headlines made it seem that the colleague was heterosexual and married to a man.
5. The complainant also said that the articles breached Clause 2 because they included a photo of her on the street that was taken without her knowledge.
6. In addition, she said that the articles breached Clause 11 as they named her, when it was the other, unnamed, colleague who had made the sexual advances towards her.
She also considered that the articles breached Clause 12 as they discriminated against her as a lesbian.
7. The publication did not accept any breaches of the Code. It said that the references to the complainant making comments of a sexual nature came from the findings of the hearing.
8. The publication said that the photo did not intrude into the complainant’s privacy. It had been taken in a public place and did not contain any private information about her. Furthermore, it did not consider that the alleged sexual advances amounted to sexual assault, and it noted that this had been confirmed by the police. On this basis, it did not consider that the terms of Clause 11 were engaged.
9. The publication said that it had not acted in a way that was discriminatory towards the complainant. It had not used any discriminatory references, and whilst it had reported on her gender and sexual orientation, this was genuinely relevant to the story as it was heard in the context of the sexual advances she had allegedly made.
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 11 (Victims of sexual assault)
The press must not identify or publish material likely to lead to the identification of a victim of sexual assault unless there is adequate justification and they are legally free to do so. Journalists are entitled to make enquiries but must take care and exercise discretion to avoid the unjustified disclosure of the identity of a victim of sexual assault.
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.
Findings of the Committee
14. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that it was her colleagues who had said that she could “turn any woman gay”. It was the publication’s position that these were allegations that had been made during the hearing, and it had accurately reported them. The complainant had not demonstrated that these allegations were not made during the hearing and due care had been taken in reporting them as allegations. The Committee therefore found that the publication had taken care to avoid inaccuracy in both articles in reporting what was heard at the complainant’s disciplinary hearing and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
15. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that she had been the victim of sexual advances made by Colleague A. The Committee found that the newspaper was entitled to report on the hearing before the Fitness to Practice Committee, which concerned the allegations which had been made against the complainant. The articles made clear that these were allegations which the complainant denied, and her position that the advances were made by Colleague A. Both articles also made clear that the hearing was ongoing. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article on this point. There was no breach of Clause 1.
16. The Committee found that it was not misleading to omit the sexual orientation or marital status of Colleague A from the articles, as these matters had no bearing on the report of the complainant’s hearing. It did not find that either of the headlines implied that Colleague A was married to a man. There was no breach of Clause 1.
17. The Committee found that the photograph, which had been taken without the complainant’s knowledge, had been taken on a public street and simply showed her likeness, and not any private activity about which she had no reasonable expectation of privacy. In addition, the image did not disclose anything private about the complainant. There was no breach of Clause 2.
18. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that sexual advances had been made towards her. However, the publication had not identified the complainant as a victim of sexual assault; “sexual advances” do not meet this threshold. In light of this, the terms of Clause 11 had not been engaged.
19. The Committee noted that the articles referred to the complainant’s sexual orientation and gender. Neither of the articles used prejudicial or pejorative references to either her sexual orientation or gender, and, due to the allegations heard at the hearing, the complainant’s sexual orientation was genuinely relevant to the story. There was no breach of Clause 12.
20. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 02/01/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 05/06/2020Back to ruling listing