Decision of the Complaints Committee 01800-19 All Star Parrots v Daily Star
Summary of complaint
1. A representative of All Star Parrots complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Star breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article headlined "BEAKY BLINDERS", published on 28 February 2019.
2. The article reported that a "pain-loving parrot" had taken to laughing at its owners when they were hurt. The article reported that the couple who rehomed the parrot had first noticed the behaviour when one of them had stubbed their toe and the parrot "suddenly let out a loud peal of laughter". The article reported that the couple typically fostered parrots before they moved on to another home but featured comments from one of the men explaining that the parrot was "originally going to be found a forever home after staying with us but he's settled in so well" and "so he's staying". The article reported that the man as a result "reckons" that the parrot had now found its "forever home". The article featured a superimposed image of the parrot in a flat cap and a photograph of the parrot with the man.
3. The complainant, a representative of a charity which rehomed parrots was complaining on behalf of the charity and one of the men caring for the parrot. It said that the article was inaccurate as the parrot was owned by the charity and was only being temporarily cared for by the couple, it had not found its "forever home" as claimed. The complainant said that the carer had not given the journalist the quotes attributed to him in the article; specifically that he was rehoming the parrot. It said that the article had inaccurately referred to the parrot as a "pain loving parrot" despite parrots not understanding the concept of pain; the parrot's reaction was learnt behaviour. The complainant also said that the article gave the misleading impression that the parrot was neglected in its previous home, which was not the case, and failed to make clear that parrots are difficult pets to keep. It said that the article had compared the parrot to a psychotic television character by putting it in a flat cap which was not a responsible way to portray the parrot for the general public and the newspaper did not get the charity's permission to do this prior to publication. The complainant raised concern that a leader column article published the same day had referred to the article under complaint by inaccurately claiming that the ordeal had left the couple "sick as a parrot".
4. The complainant said that the article constituted a breach of Clause 2 as the article was based on a video published in a private Facebook group. It said that the idea for the article and the photographs were taken from this group without its permission by a journalist who was a member, despite it being a closed group, which was inaccessible to the general public.
5. The newspaper rejected any breach of the Code. It said that the claims in the article were substantiated by the conversation one of the parrot's carers had with the journalist prior to publication. It said that the carer had told the journalist that the parrot was staying with him because it had settled in so well and that the article did not claim that the parrot had been neglected, it simply reported that it had been shy but had since warmed to its surroundings. The publication provided recordings which it said supported this position. Regardless, this was the carer's personal experience of the events and was presented as such in the article; it was entitled to publish this account.
6. The publication emphasised that it did not require permission to publish the article and in any event, doing so without the charity's permission did not render the article inaccurate. Further, the publication said that superimposing a flat cap on the parrot in the image and omitting to mention that parrots are difficult pets to keep did not render the article inaccurate or misleading.
7. The publication said that the photographs featured in the article were sent by the carer to the journalist via WhatsApp and they were not taken from the Facebook group as alleged by the complainant. The publication also said that the journalist had been a member of the Facebook group for over a year.
Relevant Code provisions
8. 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 intrusion 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
9. The recording supplied by the publication made clear that the parrot's carer had freely spoken to the journalist and provided information for the purposes of publication. During the exchange the carer explained to the journalist that the couple usually provided a temporary safe house for the birds but that on this occasion the parrot was staying with them. It was not inaccurate to report that the parrot was staying with them or that the parrot had found its "forever home" in the circumstances. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
10. The Committee acknowledged that the complainant did not agree with the portrayal of the parrot in the article but considered that the basis for characterising the parrot as "pain loving" was clear; the parrot appeared to laugh when its carers were hurt. Describing the parrot in this way was not significantly misleading in circumstances where the basis for this characterisation was made clear for readers. The Code makes clear that the selection of material for publication is a matter of editorial discretion and so not reporting that parrots are difficult pets to keep and omitting reference to the parrot's past did not render the article significantly misleading. The Committee acknowledged that the complainant found the image of the parrot in a flat cap in poor taste. However, the Code does not address issues of taste and offence and the fact the parrot appeared in a flat cap did not engage the terms of Clause 1. Additionally, the comment made on the story in the leader article did not affect the accuracy of the article under complaint. In any event, the leader article had simply commented on the story, which the publication was entitled to do in the context of a clearly distinguished comment piece. There was no breach of Clause 1.
11. The photographs and information featured in the article from the Facebook group did not constitute private information and the publication did not require consent to publish it. In any event, the journalist was a member of the group and this information was also provided by the carer with his knowledge and consent. There was no breach of Clause 2.
12. The complaint was not upheld
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 28/02/2019
Date decision issued: 08/07/2019
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