Decision of the Complaints Committee 00275-15 Ivleva v Daily Express
Summary of complaint
Summary of complaint
1. Marina Ivleva complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Express had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply), Clause 3 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Harassment), Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Penniless trucker in battle over internet bride’s £300k fortune”, published on 2 December 2014.
2. The complainant had grown up in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, had married a British man and was resident in the UK. Her husband had filed for divorce in 2013 and had been informed that she had already divorced him in Ukraine. The article was primarily a report of court proceedings, stating that the British courts had refused to recognise the Ukrainian decision, and that the complainant’s appeal of this judgment had been unsuccessful, leaving the complainant’s husband free to file for divorce in the UK. The article had also included comments made by the complainant’s husband to a journalist following the court case. He had said that she had considerable financial resources, while he was living in poverty.
3. The complainant said that the article had inaccurately reported the date of the hearing reported, which had taken place on 24 November, and had fabricated her employment details; she was a programme administrator and not a senior administrator as reported. She also said that she did not possess assets of £300,000 as reported. She considered that the newspaper should have contacted her for comment prior to publication, and considered the failure to do so to be a breach of Clause 2. The complainant believed that the article had intruded into her privacy and said that one of the newspaper’s reporters in Ukraine had harassed her friends and family. She said that a photographer had stolen a photograph of her and published it without her consent. Furthermore, she said that the article was biased and discriminatory towards her, and that it should not have made reference to her Ukrainian background.
4. The newspaper said that the article had been obtained from an agency and was a fair and accurate report of court proceedings. The copy had been obtained the day before publication, hence the article stating that the hearing had taken place “yesterday”. It accepted that the estimate of the complainant’s wealth, and her employment, had not been heard as part of proceedings, but were based on comments made by her husband to a reporter outside the court. It noted that these claims could have been more clearly distinguished as the view of the complainant’s husband, and offered to publish the following correction in its corrections column on its letters page:
In our article “Penniless trucker in battle over internet bride’s £300k fortune” published on 2 December 2014 we said that Ms Ivleva had amassed assets of £300,000 during her 12 year marriage to John Yates, whilst working as a senior administrator for a university. In fact, this figure is her husband’s estimate of her wealth. Ms Ivleva denies that she has any assets and has asked us to make it clear that she does not have a senior role or a highly paid job.
5. The complainant did not accept the terms of the correction. She said that the entire article was fabricated, and any wording should reflect this.
6. The newspaper did not accept that the article had intruded into the complainant’s privacy; it was based on an appeal held in open court. The photograph used in the article had been supplied by the agency, who maintained that it was obtained lawfully. The reporter who the complainant said was guilty of harassment had never been employed by the newspaper in any capacity, and it could not be held responsible for her conduct. The publication did not have a Moscow office. The terms of Clause 12 did not prohibit references to an individual’s nationality.
Relevant Code Provisions
7. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published.
iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply)
A fair opportunity for reply to inaccuracies must be given when reasonably called for.
Clause 3 (Privacy)
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence.
ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual’s private life without consent.
Clause 4 (Harassment)
i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.
ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on their property when asked to leave and must not follow them.
Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge)
i) The press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices; or by intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, messages or emails; or by the unauthorised removal of documents or photographs; or by accessing digitally-held private information without consent.
Clause 12 (Discrimination)
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
ii) Details of an individual’s race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
Findings of the Committee
8. The Press is free to publish individual comment and conjecture. As such, the newspaper was entitled to publish the complainant’s husband’s comment on her wealth. The Committee expressed some concern that the headline and first paragraph had not made clear that the value of the complainant’s assets was based on comments made by her husband outside court. However, given that the article had later made clear that this was his estimate, it did not on balance establish a breach of Clause 1. The Committee welcomed the newspaper’s offer of a correction on this point, but in the circumstances, there was no requirement to publish this wording.
9. The discrepancy between the complainant’s reported job title of senior administrator and her actual role of programme administrator did not represent a significant inaccuracy requiring correction. Nor did the article’s assertion that the hearing had taken place “yesterday”, rather than the week before, materially affect the facts of the case. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.
10. The terms of Clause 2 do not require publications to ask the subjects of stories for comment prior to publication, but provide the opportunity to respond to published inaccuracies. The complainant had expressed concern that the article was “fabricated” but had not asked for an opportunity to reply, and had declined the newspaper’s offer to publish a correction. There was no breach of Clause 2.
11. The article was primarily a report of court proceedings, information which had already been placed in the public domain. While the complainant did not consider the details of her divorce to be newsworthy, this did not affect the publication’s right to publish information given in court. The two details which did not appear to have been previously heard in court related to her husband’s claims about her assets, and the nature of her employment. The Committee did not consider that the publication of this information constituted a failure to respect her private life; there was no breach of Clause 3.
12. The copy for the article had been provided by an agency, and was based on a report of open court proceedings, and an interview with the complainant’s husband. She had not been approached by a journalist in connection to the article, and the Committee did not therefore consider the complaint under the terms of Clause 4.
13. The complainant had not provided grounds for her belief that a journalist had stolen photographs from her computer or loft. The Committee was satisfied that the pictures had been obtained lawfully by the agency, in compliance with the Code.
14. There had been no pejorative reference to the complainant in relation to any of the characteristics covered by the terms of Clause 12, and this Clause does not generally prohibit the inclusion of biographical details such as nationality. In any case, given the complainant’s attempt to divorce her husband in Ukraine, and the subsequent overturning of proceedings by the UK Courts, her Ukrainian background was relevant to the story. There was no breach of Clause 12.
15. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 16/01/2015
Date decision issued: 26/03/2015Back to ruling listing