Decision of the Complaints Committee – 00544-20 Ahmed v The Bolton News
Summary of Complaint
1. Abdul Ahmed complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Bolton News breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Two years of ‘party house’ hell”, published on 29 January 2020.
2. The article reported on a Saturday night party which had occurred in a property that had been rented out on Airbnb, which was stated to be across “the road from the [named] pub”. The subheadline of the article reported that “Neighbours [had been] kept awake until 6am by teenagers using holiday home for parties”. The article contained several allegations from neighbours to the property who said that there had been parties at the property. One commented that “I have contacted the owner via Airbnb on numerous occasions to stop this happening but I have never had a response. There was once a party on a Thursday night going on until 6.30am and the police were called. There have been around five or six parties in the last two months”. It also reported that the party was “another addition to two years of problems while the house has been advertised on accommodation sites.” The article also contained a quote from Airbnb that there had been “no previous reports of any issues with the property” and that it had “responded to a complaint made this weekend, made through the website’s Neighbour Support Tool, and removed the person who booked the home from the service”.
3. The article also appeared online and had been amended when the newspaper was alerted to the complaint, however, it was unable to provide the original version. Nevertheless, the publication confirmed that the original online article was identical to the version published in print.
4. The complainant, the owner of the property being rented on Airbnb, said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as, whilst he accepted there had been a party on the Saturday night, there had not been any previous parties, nor had the police been called about them, nor had he received any complaints from the neighbours through Airbnb. He said the fact that Airbnb had stated that this was the first complaint about this property confirmed this. He also said that it was inaccurate to describe the house as a “party house” as this gave the misleading impression it was being let as a house to party in, when in fact parties were not allowed at the property. The complainant said he had not been contacted prior to the publication in order to deny the allegations.
5. The complainant also said that the article intruded into his private life in breach of Clause 2 because it included photographs of the property, one of which showed his car and its registration plate. He also said that whilst his property could be found on Airbnb, its precise location was not available until the person had booked it, whereas the article had stated it was across “the road from the [named] pub”.
6. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the allegations that there had been several parties and that the police had been called in the past had been based on a discussion with several neighbours and had been presented as claims in the article rather than asserted as fact. It did not consider that it was misleading to term the house a “party house” where the complainant accepted that a large house party had taken place there on the Saturday night. The publication said it believed that the complainant had been contacted prior to the article being published, however it could not confirm this as it no longer employed the reporter who had written the story. Nevertheless, it did not dispute the account of the complainant that he had not been contacted before publication. It said that, in any case, it had received a comment from Airbnb who had confirmed that there had been a party on the Saturday night, though as the reporter had left the publication it could not provide any details as to which allegations had been put to Airbnb. After receiving a complaint directly from the complainant, the online article was amended to include that “[t]he owner of the property told The Bolton News that the terrace is not a party house and that he shut the party down at 10.30pm”. A follow-up article centred on the complainant’s denials was also published.
7. The publication said that the photograph of the property was from a public listing on Airbnb and therefore there was no reasonable expectation of privacy over it. It also said that the complainant had not been named in the article, nor had his personal address been used.
Relevant Code Provisions
8. 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.
9. 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.
Findings of the Committee
10. Clause 1 (i) requires that care is taken over the accuracy of published information; it does not include a standalone requirement for publications to contact the subject of stories for comment. Nonetheless, in some circumstances such an approach may be necessary in order for a publication to fulfil its obligation to take care. The publication in this instance had contacted Airbnb for comment before publication; the question was whether it was also obliged to contact the complainant directly.
11. The Committee considered the nature of the claims and the way in which they were presented. In this instance, the article had included comments and allegations from the complainant’s neighbours, which had been clearly attributed to them; throughout it was made clear that the claims were allegations and not established fact. The majority of the disputed allegations centred on events at the house, at which the complainant was not said to be present, and not the complainant specifically. The substance of these allegations was addressed in the comment by Airbnb, which was included in the article. The only disputed reference to the complainant (who was not named) was the claim by one source that the owner had not responded to previous complaints via Airbnb.
12. Having considered the nature of the allegations, the manner in which they were presented, and the inclusion of the comment by Airbnb, the Committee concluded that the publication’s decision not to contact the complainant for his personal comment did not constitute a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article. Nor was the article significantly inaccurate or misleading such that a correction was required under Clause 1 (ii).
13. The headline had stated that there had been “Two years of ‘party house’ hell”. Where the term “party house” was in quotation marks, this was distinguishable as comment. Whilst the complainant disputed that there had been problems for two years, it was not considered that “two years of hell” was a statement of fact, and the article went on to make clear that the “two years of hell” was the view of the neighbours. Where the basis was provided in the article, the publication had taken care not to publish inaccurate material, and had distinguished between comment, conjecture and fact. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
14. The article contained photographs which showed the outside of the house and the complainant’s car, which could be seen from a public road. The article did not report that the car belonged to the complainant, nor was the registration plate included in the print version of legible in the online version. In any case, these images did not disclose information about which the complainant had an expectation of privacy. In addition, whilst the address of the property was not listed publicly, the rough location described in the article as being opposite a named pub was also not something about which the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy. There was no breach of Clause 2.
15. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 29/01/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 22/09/2020Back to ruling listing