01343-19 Hajewskyj v lancashiretelegraph.co.uk

Decision: No breach - after investigation

Decision of the Complaints Committee 01343-19 Hajewskyj v lancashiretelegraph.co.uk

Summary of complaint

1. Mychajlo Hajewskyj complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the lancashiretelegraph.co.uk breached Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in conduct relating to articles headlined:

  • “Blackburn town centre Italian restaurant closes after just six months”, published on 25 May 2018
  •  “Mates say failed Blackburn restaurant boss owes them cash” published on 6 June 2018
  • “Council taking legal action over closed Blackburn restaurant Gioia” published on 11 October 2018
  • “Blackburn regeneration Church Street in need of investment”, published on 23 October 2018
  • “New dessert bar Haute Dolci to open in Blackburn in New Year”, published on 23 October 2018
  • “Business behind failed eaterie to be struck off”, published on 24 January 2019
  • “Blackburn restaurant premises back on the market”, published on 8 February 2019

2. The articles reported on the difficulties facing the complainant’s business, which opened in November 2017 but closed in May 2018. They reported that since its closure the business continued to be involved in various legal and contractual disputes.

3. The complainant said that the publication had contacted him numerous times for comment in relation to these articles, in breach of Clause 3 (Harassment). He said that the journalist contacted him approximately 8-12 times in relation to each article, and asked for business updates between articles. He also said that following the publication of the third article, he had told the reporter to cease contacting him, and blocked the reporter’s phone numbers. He said that this request to desist had not been adhered to and he had continued to be contacted frequently by the journalist. He was unable to provide any phone records or screenshots which demonstrated the nature or extent of this contact.  He also said that the number of articles written about his business was excessive and constituted harassment, and had had a negative impact on him and his family.

4. The publication did not accept that it had breached Clause 3. It said that the reporter had contacted the complainant two or three times per story, not 8-12 times as alleged by the complainant – and it did not contact the complainant at all in relation to the two articles published on 23 October. It said that it was important to give him the right of reply on serious matters relating to his business and noted that the complainant had provided a comment on the article published on the 11 October. It did not accept that the complainant had issued any request to desist – the journalist was experienced at recognising such requests, and had one been made, he would have reported this to the news desk and would not have continued to contact the complainant. Instead, the publication said that the complainant would tell the reporter that he was busy or would speak at a different time, and that this was what prompted the reporter to keep calling the complainant. Nevertheless, it said that it was happy to respect his wishes not to be contacted for future stories.

Relevant Code Provisions

5. Clause 3 (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 property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.

iii) 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

6. Journalists regularly contact the subject of an article for their comment on a claim, and doing so in and of itself does not constitute a breach of Clause 3. The Committee noted that the publication did not accept that any request to desist had been made, and as there were no written record or similar of such a request being made, it was unable to reconcile the differing accounts on this point and thus could not find that there had been any failure to respect a request to desist in breach of Clause 3(ii).

7. The terms of Clause 3(i) state that journalists should not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit. The Committee noted that the complainant had claimed that the frequency of the calls alone constituted harassment. However, the complainant had not provided any information to verify his account of the contact, such as call or text records, in relation to calls he alleged were recent and frequent, and the newspaper disputed his version of events, the Committee was not able to reconcile the differing accounts as to the frequency of the contact. In these circumstances, and were the complainant was being contacted in a professional capacity for comment on serious claims about his business, the Committee did not find that the approaches made by the journalist amounted to a breach of Clause 3.

8. In addition, publications have the freedom to select which subjects to cover and articles to publish; the fact that several articles were published about the complainant’s business over the course of 10 months did not constitute harassment in breach of Clause 3. 

Conclusion

9. The complaint was not upheld

Remedial Action

10. N/A

Date complaint received: 08/02/2019

Date decision issued: 23/05/2019

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