Decision of the Complaints Committee 01485-14 Petkovic v Wales on Sunday
Summary of complaint
Summary of complaint
1. Michael Petkovic complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Wales on Sunday had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply), Clause 3 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Harassment), Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Police Probe ‘Britain’s unluckiest man’ after he used X-ray of someone else’s broken spine in fundraising appeal”, published on 26 October 2014.
2. The newspaper had reported that the police were “looking into” claims that the complainant had used an x-ray of someone else’s broken spine in a fundraising appeal. The complainant said that the coverage was inaccurate as he was not under investigation by the police. He had provided correspondence from Action Fraud which made clear that Action Fraud would not discuss individual cases.
3. He was also concerned that the article had contained a number of further inaccuracies: he had not claimed that the x-ray had been of his spine, rather his appeal page had said, “x-ray of crushed spine”, which he had used as an example alongside images of his own injuries; he had not given himself the title of “Britain’s unluckiest man”; the coverage had inaccurately implied that he had been left in need of a wheelchair immediately after sustaining his injuries, when in fact the fractures he had sustained had got progressively worse over a two year period; the coverage had not made clear that, while wheelchairs are available on the NHS, there is a waiting list which can take longer than a year; the article had also inaccurately stated that there had been a fire in Aberystwyth, when in fact it had occurred elsewhere.
4. The complainant said that he had not been afforded an opportunity to reply, in breach of Clause 2 of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
5. The complainant was concerned that the publication of his name and Facebook details represented an intrusion into his privacy. He was also concerned that approaches for comment by the newspaper’s representative had represented harassment.
6. The complainant said that the publication of the articles had caused him grief and shock. He also said that the article was a breach of Clause 9 and discriminated against him on the grounds of his disability.
7. The newspaper said it had obtained a statement from Action Fraud prior to the publication of the article, which had been included in the coverage. It said that Action Fraud had subsequently clarified that reports had been received about this matter, and that they would be initially assessed by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. The newspaper said that, in these circumstances, it had not been inaccurate to report that the police were investigating.
8. The newspaper had attempted to contact the complainant for his comments on the matter. It did not accept that it had published inaccuracies which required reply under the terms of the Code.
9. The newspaper did not accept that the two phone calls constituted harassment. It also said that the coverage had not related to circumstances of grief or shock such as to engage the terms of Clause 5. The newspaper did not accept that the article had engaged the terms of Clause 9 as it had not included any inappropriate references to a relative of an individual accused of crime. It also said that there had not been any gratuitous or pejorative references to the complainant’s disability. The fact that the complainant used a wheelchair was relevant to the article.
Relevant Code Provisions
10. 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.
Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply)
A fair opportunity for reply to inaccuracies must be given when reasonably called for.
Clause 3 (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. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent.
Note - Private places are public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Clause 4 (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 their 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.
Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock)
i) In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings, such as inquests.
Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime)
i) Relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story.
Clause 12 (Discrimination)
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
Findings of the Committee
11. As Action Fraud had confirmed that that the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau were assessing reports about this matter, it had not been significantly misleading to report that the police were “looking into” the fundraising . Although Action Fraud had not discussed the detail of the individual case, it had confirmed that reports had been received. The Committee also noted that the article had made clear that the police were yet to decide whether further investigation would be necessary. There was no breach of the Code on this point.
12. While the complainant had denied claiming that the photograph of the broken spine had been his, he did not dispute that he had used an image of an x-ray which was not of his injuries in his campaign. In these circumstances it had not been inaccurate to report that the complainant had used an x-ray of someone else’s broken spine in his fundraising appeal. The Committee also noted that the article had included the complainant’s comment that he had “messed up” by not explaining that the x-rays were of similar injuries. This concern did not raise a breach of Clause 1.
13. The article had not suggested that the complainant had assigned himself the title of “Britain’s unluckiest man”. There was no breach of the Code on this point.
14. The article had said that the complainant had been left in a wheelchair after being trampled by a horse. While the Committee noted the complainant’s position that the injuries had been gradual, it had not been inaccurate to state that they had occurred following the incident. It had also not been significantly mislead to omit that there was a waiting list for wheelchairs. The Committee also took the view that, in the context of the article as a whole, the location of the fire in which the complainant had sustained injuries had not been a significant detail such to require correction under the terms of the Code. There was no breach of Clause 1.
15. Clause 2 was designed to afford individuals the opportunity to respond to published inaccuracies when reasonably called for. The Committee had not established the existence of inaccuracies such as to have engaged the terms of the Clause.
16. Under the terms of Clause 3, account will be taken of a complainant’s own public disclosures of information. The publication of information about the complainant’s Facebook page had not represented an intrusion into his privacy. It had published information about his injuries which had been public by virtue of his fundraising campaign. The publication of the complainant’s former name had not represented a failure to respect his private life.
17. While the Committee noted the complainant’s concern, there was no evidence that the conduct of the newspaper had constituted harassment. It made clear that the newspaper’s response to the complaint submitted by the complainant had not constituted harassment. There was no breach of Clause 4.
18. The terms of Clause 5 relate to the conduct of journalists, and sensitivity of reporting, in cases involving personal grief or shock. The complainant’s concern that the article had caused him grief and shock did not raise a breach of the Clause 5. As the article had not identified a relative or friend of an individual convicted or accused of crime, the complaint had not engaged the terms of Clause 9.
19. The article had not made any prejudicial or pejorative reference to the complainant’s disabilities. The fact that the complainant used a wheelchair had been relevant to the article. As such, there was no breach of Clause 12.
20. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 26/10/2014
Date decision issued: 04/02/2015Back to ruling listing