Decision of the Complaints Committee 01888-14 Hussain v Manchester Evening News
Summary of complaint
Summary of complaint
1. Zhaida Hussain complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation via a representative that the Manchester Evening News had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article headlined “Mass brawl between feuding families stops traffic in Levenshulme as dispute over conservatory turns violent”, published online on 20 November 2014, and in print on 21 November 2014, and had harassed her and her family in breach of Clause 4 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
2. The article reported that a number of individuals, including the complainant, had been convicted of affray, following a street fight between two groups of neighbours.
3. The complainant said that the article was a biased attempt to frame the Hussain family, when another family, the Ahmeds, had been equally involved in the fighting. She said that the fight had not been about a conservatory, but about a reaction to an extension to the Ahmeds’ home, built some time ago. She said that of the 20 people involved, a number were friends of the Ahmed family. She also said that, contrary to the report, Nazia Akhtar had not thrown a vacuum cleaner attachment at a passing car, nor had she used the attachment to hit an “unidentified figure”. The complainant also said that photographers had harassed the subjects of the story.
4. The newspaper defended its coverage as an accurate report of court proceedings. It noted that, while the complainant raised a number of points in her complaint, the only information from the article that she claimed had not been heard by the court was the information relating to the vacuum cleaner. It provided the court reporter’s shorthand note of the prosecutor’s opening statement, which stated that Nazia Akhtar had thrown a tubular weapon at Umar Ahmed, narrowly missing a passing vehicle, and that she was later shown “bent over a figure striking or delivering blows with what seemed like that tubular object”. While the phrase “vacuum cleaner attachment” was not used in court, the reporter had seen documents which confirmed that the “tubular object” was a vacuum cleaner attachment. The photographs included in the article had been taken from a distance in a public place, and there had been no harassment.
Relevant Code Provisions
5. 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.
iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
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.
Findings of the Committee
6. The Committee emphasised that the newspaper’s obligation was to report accurately the proceedings in court. In this instance, the complainant had raised a number of concerns about the article, the majority of which arose from her concerns about the court proceedings rather than the newspaper’s account of the proceedings. The article had included a list of people convicted in relation to the incident, which included members of both families.
7. The complainant did not dispute that the court had heard that Nazia Akhtar had thrown a tubular object at Mr Ahmed, which had narrowly missed a passing vehicle, and that she was later seen bent over a figure, who she was striking with this object.
8. The newspaper said it had seen court documents which showed that the object in question was a vacuum cleaner attachment, but it was not in possession of copies of these documents, and was therefore unable to provide them to the Committee to establish the position in this regard. Nonetheless, in light of the fact that it was accepted that a “tubular object” had been thrown, the Committee did not consider that this was a matter of significance. Further, the issue of whether Ms Akhtar intended to throw the object at a car, or if it had been thrown close to the car in an attempt to hit an individual, did also not represent a significant inaccuracy. While the complainant disputed the accuracy of some of the evidence given in court, the article was not a misleading summary of this evidence. There was no breach of Clause 1.
9. The complainant had alleged that she had been harassed, but had not detailed her complaint in this regard; she had not disputed the newspaper’s contention that the photograph which had accompanied the story had been taken outside court. There were no grounds to establish a breach of Clause 4.
10. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 21/11/2014
Date decision issued: 16/03/2015Back to ruling listing