Decision of the Complaints Committee - 00857-20 Hayden v The Spectator
Summary of Complaint
1. Stephanie Hayden complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Spectator breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “I stand with [named third party]”, published on 14 February 2020.
2. The article was a comment piece in which the author expressed her opinion that police are “wasting time arresting Twitter transphobes” as opposed to dealing with more serious crimes. The author referred to a case concerning a woman who had been found “guilty, under the Communications Act (2003), of using a public communications network to ’cause annoyance, inconvenience and anxiety’.” It also described these communications as “offensive tweets” and reported that “[t]hese included describing Hayden as a ‘pig in a wig’ and referring to Hayden as ‘he’ or ‘him’.”
3. The complainant, the transgender woman who had been subject to the Tweets, said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as it failed to accurately report the reasons for the woman’s conviction. The complainant said that the woman had set up multiple troll Twitter accounts to send her offensive Tweets and had published private financial and medical information about her. She said that the article was one-sided and biased, and inaccurately suggested that there had been a miscarriage of justice. In addition, she said it was misleading to omit certain biographical details of the woman.
4. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 9 for failing to accurately report a crime.
5. The publication did not accept that the article was inaccurate. It said that the article was a comment piece from a journalist who had attended the trial and sentencing, and that the crime that the woman had been convicted of was clearly referred to in the article: “under the Communications Act (2003), of using a public communications network to “cause annoyance, inconvenience and anxiety”. The publication said that it was impossible to report all the details that were heard in court, and that it had described the substance of the Tweets and said that by reporting that the offensive Tweets “included” the ones that it published it was clear that this was not an exhaustive list. The publication also said that the defendant’s biographical details referred to by the complainant had been found to not be relevant in court, and therefore it was not relevant to be included in the article.
6. The publication said that the terms of Clause 9 were not engaged.
Relevant Code Provisions
7. 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.
Findings of the Committee
8. The article was a comment piece and under the terms of Clause 1, the publication was entitled to publish the writer’s opinion that the conviction was unfair and had the effect of chilling freedom of speech. The article distinguished fact, the details of the woman’s conviction, from the comments of the author, her view of the utility of the prosecution of the woman, as required by Clause 1 (iii). In addition, the article had not reported an exhaustive list of all the Tweets that had been sent, including those which contained private medical and financial information, however it had not suggested that this list was exhaustive; it had used the word “including”. This made it clear that these was the kind of things that had been said in the Tweets. Moreover, the article had accurately reported the offence that the woman was convicted of. The article was not significantly inaccurate in breach of Clause 1.
9. The defendant’s biographical details were not relevant to the article, which concerned her court case, freedom of speech and the writer’s opinion on what police time should be spent on. The publication was entitled to choose whether or not to publish this information; it was not misleading to omit it. There was no breach of Clause 1.
10. Clause 9 relates to the identification of the friends and family of individuals who are accused or convicted of crime. As no such persons were identified in the article, there was no breach of Clause 9.
11. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 14/02/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 22/04/2020Back to ruling listing