Decision of the Complaints Committee 01759-19 A Man v Mail Online
Summary of complaint
1. A man complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article headlined "Holby City actor John Michie’s tragic daughter is seen giggling and playing with fairy lights alongside rapper boyfriend now accused of her manslaughter in heart-breaking video just hours before she died from drug overdose at Bestival", published on 27 February 2019.
2. The article
reported that a man had been convicted of manslaughter. The article featured a
photograph of the defendant with the complainant, a close relative. The caption
of the photograph explained that the defendant had arrived at court accompanied
by the complainant and identified his relationship to the defendant.
3. The complainant said that he had been identified in the article without his consent. He was not relevant to his relative's conviction and this was a breach of Clause 9, and an intrusion into his privacy. He said that the article also represented an intrusion into his grief and shock at his relative’s conviction. The complainant said that he had asked IPSO to circulate a Private Advisory Notice on his behalf when his relative was charged, making clear that he did not want to speak to the press. In this, he had also said that he did not consent to being identified in relation to his relative’s crime.
4. The publication
did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the complainant had been
photographed in a public place, outside a Crown Court, accompanying his
relative who was on trial for manslaughter. He did not have any expectation of
privacy. The article had only included the complainant’s name and likeness –
this was not private information. The complainant’s attendance at court with
his relative represented a public and voluntary show of support for a member of
the family on trial for a serious crime. He was relevant to the story because
he had accompanied his relative to court. It noted that Private Advisory
Notices issued by IPSO do not last indefinitely and, regardless, the
complainant had attended court after the notice had been circulated.
5. The publication said that the criminal trial of a family member is not an event that would be associated with grief or shock in line with Clause 4, such as death or serious injury to a friend or relative.
Relevant Code Provisions
6. 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.
Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock)
In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. These provisions should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.
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.
Findings of the Committee
7. Private Advisory Notices are not injunctions; they do not preclude publications from publishing stories which make reference to an individual on behalf of whom a Notice has previously been sent. Rather, their purpose is to make editors aware of the position of an individual, and to note the relevant clauses of the Code which may apply including, for example, those which concern privacy and harassment. Contacting such an individual, or publishing a story which makes reference to them, does not necessarily result in a breach of the Code; consideration needs to be given to the circumstances in which the Notice was issued and the circumstances surrounding the published story or the contact made.
8. In the Private Advisory Notice, the complainant had made clear that he did not consent to being identified in any news story. The question for the Committee, therefore, was whether the publication had demonstrated his genuine relevance to the published report. The story, in this case, was the trial of the accused. The complainant had voluntarily attended court with his relative who was the defendant in a criminal trial. The fact of the complainant’s attendance at court, seemingly in support of his relative, was relevant to a report of the court case. Identifying the complainant in these circumstances did not breach the terms of Clause 9.
9. The photograph, which showed the complainant’s likeness, was taken in a public place outside a court building at a time when the complainant was not engaged in private activity. In these circumstances, the complainant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the information contained in the photograph. Further, the article only identified the complainant’s name, which is not private information. There was no breach of Clause 2 on this point.
10. The terms of Clause 4 relate to the approaches journalists make at times of personal grief and shock, as well as how newspapers handle the publication of material which relates to an individual’s grief or shock. The complainant's identification in relation to his relative's conviction was not a situation which engaged the terms of Clause 4.
11. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received by IPSO: 28/02/2019
Date decision issued to the parties: 01/05/2019
The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.
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