· Decision of the Complaints Committee 00334-14 HRH Sara bint Talal bin Abdulaziz v The Sunday Telegraph
Summary of complaint
1. HRH Sara bint Talal bin Abdulaziz complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation via representatives that The Sunday Telegraph had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 3 (Privacy) and Clause 4 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Fur flies over Saudi princess’s unruly retriever”, published on 21 September 2014 in print and on 20 September 2014 online.
2. The article detailed a dispute between the complainant and a dog trainer over alleged non-payment of a fee for training for her pet golden retriever, Silver.
3. The complainant said that she had not been provided with an adequate opportunity to respond to the allegations before publication, with the result that the article contained a number of inaccuracies. In particular, she said that her dog was not aggressive and had never bitten anyone. While there had been an incident involving her dog in the past, to which police were called, the dog had never been taken into police custody, as the article said. Further, the dog trainer had not been engaged as a “last hope”. The complainant also stated that the dog was four years old, rather than nine as reported, and that the dog trainer had been employed by a former employee of the complainant, rather than the complainant herself. The complainant speculated that it was inaccurate to state that the trainer had “declined to comment”; she believed that the trainer had contacted the newspaper about the matter.
4. The complainant also stated that the article had intruded into her privacy, in revealing details about her residence, including the cost of her home and its proximity to a London park. The complainant considered that the article was designed to discredit her, and that its true purpose was the “persistent pursuit of details of her private life”, which she considered to be a form of harassment.
5. The newspaper said that it had received credible information that the dog had bitten a child on the nose. The newspaper had put a number of questions to the complainant, asking about the behaviour of the dog, the dispute with the trainer and the complainant’s feelings on the matter. It had provided her with 48 hours in which to comment, and had then informed her that it intended to proceed to publication. The complainant had not answered the questions, and instead had only confirmed that she had a bill to pay the trainer and maintained that the dispute related only to the amount due. The claims in the article were therefore clearly presented as such, and not as established facts.
6. The newspaper considered the points about the age of the dog, and whether or not the trainer had been engaged as a “last resort”, to be trivial matters.
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.
iv) A publication must report fairly and accurately the outcome of an action for defamation to which it has been a party
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. Account will be taken of the complainant’s own public disclosures of information.
Clause 4 (Harassment)
i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.
ii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.
Findings of the Committee
8. The story had evidently originated with a confidential source, who had provided the newspaper with information about the dispute over the payment to the trainer, and made a number of additional claims about the complainant. As was appropriate – in the absence of any specific corroborating evidence on these points -- the newspaper had put a number of questions to the complainant’s representatives prior to publication, asking for her comment on the matters raised in the article, including the biting allegation. In the view of the Committee, the publication had provided the complainant with an adequate opportunity to respond to the claims. In the absence of any specific further information from her, it was entitled to proceed with publication of the claims, so long as it took care to distinguish them from established fact, as it indeed had done. The Committee established no breach of Clause 1 (i).
9. The remaining question was whether the article contained significant inaccuracies such that a correction or clarification was necessary under Clause 1 (ii). The complainant had accepted that her dog had been involved in an “incident” in 2012, which had led to police involvement. The Committee was satisfied that on balance, where it was accepted that the dog had been involved in an “incident” of unspecified nature, the dispute over the precise nature of the dog’s behaviour was not sufficient to establish a significant inaccuracy in this regard. Further, the biting incident was distinguished as an allegation, to which the newspaper was entitled to refer. While the complainant disputed that any allegation had been made, the newspaper was free to print information obtained from other sources.
10. The complainant had not denied that she was in dispute with the trainer over non-payment of a bill. The article had not included details of who had engaged the trainer, or the terms of her contract, but had reported that proceedings were on-going over payment. The article did not contain misleading information on this point.
11. While the complainant considered that the trainer was the likely source of the story, and that it was therefore inaccurate for the publication to state that she had refused to comment, this was speculation on the part of the complainant. The newspaper was entitled to maintain the confidentiality of its source, and the Committee did not establish a breach of Clause 1 on this point.
12. The discrepancy regarding the dog’s age and the characterisation of the decision to hire the trainer as a “last resort” were not matters of significance such that a correction would be required under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).
13. With regard to the complaint under Clause 3, the Committee noted that the article had not included the complainant’s address, but rather provided information about its location and nature. While the Committee expressed some concern on this point, on balance it concluded that this did not include enough detail to constitute an intrusion into the complainant’s private life, and as such did not establish a breach of Clause 3.
14. The terms of Clause 4 generally relate to the conduct of journalists during the news-gathering process. There had been no suggestion from the complainant that, while gathering material for the article, representatives from the newspaper had engaged in conduct which would engage the terms of Clause 4. Rather, the newspaper had contacted the complainant’s representatives in an appropriate manner, as part of the normal newsgathering process. There was no breach of Clause 4 of the Editors’ Code.
15. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 24/09/2014
Date decision issued: 02/12/2014Back to ruling listing