Findings of the Complaints Committee – 01348-21 IPSO v Tatler
the recommendation of the Board of the Independent Press Standards Organisation
(IPSO), the Complaints Committee of IPSO initiated an own-volition inquiry into
whether Tatler had breached Clause 16 (Payment to criminals) of the Editors’
Code of Practice in relation to an article headlined “Diary of a Gen-Z
prohibition partygoer”, published on 4 January 2021.
article was presented as a series of extracts, taken from a diary of an
anonymous “prohibition partygoer”, detailing their social life during a period
of time when “social gatherings were banned” due to Covid-19 restrictions. Over
the course of the article, the writer described themselves attending a series
of indoor events with large numbers of attendees: a “16 person […] dinner
party”; a party in a private underground carpark attended by a “throng” of
people, where “attendees have been made very aware that if the police turn up,
any fine imposed will be split between the guests"; a “night in the
country” with “eight […] of my nearest and dearest”; an “illegal rave” where
“400 unknowns disregard social distancing […] There’s not a face covering in
sight”; and a “fancy dress fiesta” with “40 or so partygoers”. The writer
claimed that they had "rebelled" against "draconian
restrictions" and described the "illicit thrill I get simply from
disobeying the embargo on mixing between households". The final extract
from the diary described the writer as feeling “a little peaky”.
Between 29 October and 5 November 2020, London was in Tier 2, and the relevant
legislation stated that “No person may participate in a gathering in the Tier 2
area which - (a) consists of two or more people, and (b) takes place indoors”.
On 5 November the country went into lockdown for the second time, and the
relevant legislation stated that “No person may leave or be outside of the
place where they are living without reasonable excuse”. Both pieces of
legislation allowed for an authorised person to issue a fixed penalty notice
where there was a reasonable belief an adult had committed an offence under the
regulations. The legislation described a fixed penalty notice as “a notice
offering the person to whom it is issued the opportunity of discharging any
liability to conviction for the offence by payment of a fixed penalty to an
authority specified in the notice”.
publication confirmed that: the article had been commissioned on 29 October
2020; it had been sent to print on 27 November 2020; and the writer had been
paid £400 at the time they were commissioned to write the piece. It noted that
Clause 16 of the Editors’ Code states that “Payment or offers of payment for
stories […] must not be made directly or via agents to convicted or confessed
criminals”. It did not consider the writer to be either a convicted or
confessed criminal: they had not been issued with a fixed penalty notice, and
even in circumstances where a fixed penalty had been issued and paid, no
criminal conviction or record would have resulted. The publication maintained
that it was by no means inevitable that the activities described in the article
would have resulted in a fixed penalty notice – for example, it noted that
journalists had been given special exemptions from some restrictions to ensure
that they could effectively report on the pandemic, or the police may have
found there was a reasonable excuse for the activity - so it did not consider
the conduct of the writer to be criminal. Furthermore, it noted that the police
sort to resolve breaches of regulations through engagement and explanation
before resorting to enforcement: the writer had therefore been several steps
removed from receiving a fixed penalty notice, and even further removed from
receiving a conviction, which would have required non-payment of the fine and a
court appearance resulting in a conviction. It also provided information from
the Joint Committee of Human Rights who called for a decision that no criminal
record should result from Covid-19 fixed penalty notices.
publication also stated that the article did not exploit, glorify, or
glamourise crime. It said it was a satirical piece, and that the last paragraph
of the article recognised that the writer had been exposed to a health risk. It
said that when the article was first discussed, the coronavirus guidelines were
changing, with members of the public reacting to them differently and that
there was public unrest as a result. It said several writers had contacted the
publication regarding the underground party scene in England, and after
extensive discussion it decided to commission a feature in order to accurately
investigate this scene. The publication said during these discussions it was
decided that the events in the article were a social phenomenon occurring at a
significant moment in history and that it had decided it was in the public
interest to report on these events, and that the writer had to attend such
events in order to conduct the investigation. It noted that in the time between
the article being commissioned, printed and put on sale, the Coronavirus
situation had escalated dramatically and on this basis the article was not
16 (Payment to criminals)*
Payment or offers of payment for stories, pictures or information, which seek
to exploit a particular crime or to glorify or glamorise crime in general, must
not be made directly or via agents to convicted or confessed criminals or to
their associates – who may include family, friends and colleagues.
Editors invoking the public interest to justify payment or offers would need to
demonstrate that there was good reason to believe the public interest would be
served. If, despite payment, no public interest emerged, then the material
should not be published.
Public Interest (*)
may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be
in the public interest.
public interest includes, but is not confined to:
· Detecting or exposing crime, or the
threat of crime, or serious impropriety.
· Protecting public health or safety.
· Protecting the public from being misled
by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.
· Disclosing a person or organisation’s
failure or likely failure to comply with any obligation to which they are
· Disclosing a miscarriage of justice.
· Raising or contributing to a matter of
public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or
incompetence concerning the public.
· Disclosing concealment, or likely
concealment, of any of the above.
There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.
regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public
domain or will become so.
Editors invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they
reasonably believed publication - or journalistic activity taken with a view to
publication – would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest
and explain how they reached that decision at the time.
exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to over-ride the
normally paramount interests of children under 16.
of the Committee
Committee considered Clause 16 in relation to both the letter of the Code as
well as the spirit. Clause 16 states that payment must not be made to
“convicted or confessed criminals or to their associates” for articles which
seek to exploit a particular crime or to glorify or glamorise crime in general.
In order to establish a breach of this clause, the Committee must be satisfied
that: payment had been made for the story; the story exploited, glorified or
glamorised a crime; and the recipient of the payment was – or was an associate
of – a confessed or convicted criminal.
was no question that payment had been made by the publication to the journalist
for this article, and that the article detailed behaviour on the part of the
journalist which the journalist themselves suggested in the article would
contravene Coronavirus legislation.
There was some ambiguity, however, as to whether an offence under these
regulations amounted to a crime, and therefore whether the journalist could be
considered a “confessed criminal” under the terms of Clause 16.
Committee considered this question in detail and concluded, on balance, that
they could not, for two reasons. First, the context and nature of the offence
was relevant: the status of offences established by the emergency Coronavirus
legislation was highly unsettled and subject to differing and changing
interpretations. Second, the penalty prescribed under the legislation for such
an offence was a fixed penalty notice, payment of which discharged the offender
of “any liability to conviction for the offence”. In these circumstances, the
Committee did not consider that the journalist could be considered a “confessed
criminal” in the sense intended by Clause 16. In light of this ambiguity, the
Committee further did not consider that the article necessarily amounted to
glorification of “a crime”. For these reasons, it found no breach of Clause 16.
Committee noted finally that in reaching this conclusion, it was not making any
finding as to the adequacy of the public interest justification advanced by the
magazine for the payment for this material.
10. The complaint was not upheld.
complaint received: 14/06/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 07/10/2021Back to ruling listing