Decision of the Complaints Committee 01612-19 Bentham v The Daily Telegraph
Summary of complaint
1. Royston and Tracey Bentham complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Activists against Jewish MP have close ties to Labour cabinet”, published on 11 February 2019.
2. The article reported that two people
described as a named Labour MP’s “worst” critics had close ties to the Labour
shadow cabinet via their old friendships with prominent Labour politicians. Mr
Bentham was one of these two people, described as a “hard left activist” and
former union official. The article reported that he had criticised the named
Labour MP for not being supportive enough of the party’s leadership, and that
he had demanded she apologise to her constituents. It reported that the he did
not respond to a request for comment.
3. The article also included a photograph of
the complainants with a prominent Labour politician, which the article claimed
showed the politician presenting an award to them.
4. The complainants said that the article contained a number of inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy). They did not accept that it was accurate to describe Mr Bentham as “hard left”, as he had never been a member of Militant, or any far-left political party. He said that he was still a trade union official, and that he had never said that the MP should apologise to her constituents.
5. The complainants said that the photograph of them had been used without their knowledge and consent, in breach of Clause 2 (Privacy). He said that it showed them on their wedding day, and had been taken from his private Facebook account
6. The publication did not accept that there was any breach of Clause 1 or Clause 2. It said that it was not misleading to describe Mr Bentham as “hard left”, and that he had been described as such in other publications: it was not in dispute that he had written articles for Socialist Fight and Socialist Worker – the publication said that the first of which was run by a man who had been expelled from the Labour party for his far-left and extremist views. The publication also provided an article which appeared in the Liverpool Echo on the 5 July 2017, in which the Mr Bentham was quoted as saying:
“[The named MP] needs to get on board quite quickly now. She will now have to sit round the table with us the next time she wants to vote for bombing in Syria or to pass a no confidence motion in the leader of the party - she will have to be answerable to us. We would like her to come out publicly like other MPs have done and apologise for not supporting him in the past.”
The publication noted that Mr Bentham did not dispute the accuracy of this quote.
7. The publication accepted that the Mr Bentham continued to be a union activist, but said that describing him as a “former” union activist did not create a significantly misleading impression of the his life and work; in the context of the whole article, the statement did not represent a significant inaccuracy requiring correction. Nevertheless, it said that it had amended the online version of the article.
8. The publication did not accept that the photograph revealed anything private about the complainants, or that they had any reasonable expectation of privacy over its content. The publication said that the photograph simply showed the complainants receiving an award from the prominent Labour politician; it was not apparent that this was also the couple’s wedding reception, and neither this fact nor any of the details of the event would have been revealed to readers. It said that there was no suggestion that the photograph had been taken without the couple’s consent, and noted that this was a public event. The publication said that the photograph had appeared in several places online, including on the prominent Labour MP’s website in June 2018 for 7 months, and on an online social media activist forum of which the complainant was secretary, which had thousands of members. The publication noted that the complainants did not dispute that this was the case. Nevertheless, it said that it had no intention to cause any distress, and as a gesture of goodwill had removed the photograph from the online article and arranged for it to be expunged from all its syndicated partners’ databases.
9. 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.
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. The placement of a person’s public expression of their views on a political spectrum is a subjective assessment; individuals’ and publications’ views on where a person’s beliefs fall on such a spectrum will necessarily vary. However, the Code requires that care be taken over the accuracy of such characterisations. In this instance, the characterisation of Mr Bentham as a “hard left” individual had been based on his involvement with publications and individuals the publication considered to be represent far left or non-mainstream left wing views. As such, the Committee considered that the publication had an adequate basis for its characterisation, and did not give rise to a significantly misleading impression of the complainant that required correction under Clause 1.
11. Mr Bentham accepted that he had told the Liverpool Echo in 2017 that the named Labour MP should apologise for not supporting the Labour leadership. As such, there was no inaccuracy or misleading impression in reporting that he had criticised this named MP and had called on her to apologise to her constituents, and no breach of Clause 1.
12 The publication accepted that it was inaccurate to describe Mr Bentham as a “former union activist”. However, in the context of an article which was not a detailed examination of his career, this inaccuracy did not give rise to any significantly misleading impression as to the nature of his work when he remained involved in union activism, or the claims presented about his connections to prominent Labour politicians and his criticisms of the named Labour MP. However, the Committee welcomed the publication’s decision to amend the article to clarify the correct position. There was no breach of Clause 1.
13. The photograph of the complainants showed them receiving an award; it was not immediately apparent that this was a wedding photograph. Nevertheless, in these circumstances, it was a photograph of an apparently public event, taken with consent and posted widely on the internet, which the complainant did not dispute. It was not an image which contained any information in respect of which the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy. There was no breach of Clause 2.
14. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 21/02/2019
Date decision issued: 01/05/2019
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