Resolution Statement – 01966-22 A man v hamhigh.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. A man complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Ham&High breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Labour activist blocked critical news stories on Facebook groups”, published on 7 March 2022.
2. The article reported on the complainant’s position as an administrator in two Muswell Hill community Facebook groups. It reported that the complainant, who was a Labour Party activist, blocked articles published by the publication from appearing on the pages of the Facebook groups. These articles reported on a Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) report into a Haringey Council regeneration scheme which found flaws in the decision-making process. The article under complaint claimed that “The Ham&High was given the boot from two Facebook groups run by [the complainant] after reporting on a series of controversies linked to the council's planned regeneration of the former Cranwood care home site in Muswell Hill” and that “[the complainant] admitted this week to blocking the Ham&High from the groups”. It further stated, "[the complainant] has since declared his Labour activism in a post on one of the groups and said of censoring the Ham&High: ‘I may have made an error of judgement.’”
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as the publication had never been a member of the Facebook groups. While a journalist from the publication was removed from the groups, all the publication’s other journalists, including the editor, were not removed and still remained in the group. He also said the headline implied that the reason he had removed the articles from the group was because they were critical of the Labour Party. However, the complainant said that he had rejected the articles because he considered them to be a form of political campaigning by the Liberal Democrats. The complainant also said that the article was inaccurate as he believed it had misrepresented his response to the newspaper by quoting a Facebook post where he said, "I may have made an error of judgement", which had been taken out of context.
4. The complainant also said the article breached Clause 2 as he considered that he had an expectation of privacy regarding the decisions he made as the Facebook groups’ administrator. He did not consider that this information was in the public interest or that he was a public figure.
5. The complainant also complained that the article breached Clause 10, as he said a journalist from the publication, who had called him prior to the publication of the article, had misrepresented the reason for his call. The complainant said the journalist did not initially make clear that he was writing a story and he had not given the journalist permission to print his explanation about the blocked articles.
6. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that it was reasonable for the article to describe the publication as having been given “the boot” from the Facebook group as the journalist was the public face of the publication’s recent reporting on Muswell Hill and was blocked from both groups.
7. The publication also disputed the complainant’s claim that the headline was inaccurate as it implied that the complainant had rejected the stories because they were critical of the Labour Party. The publication said the first story the complainant blocked was 17 paragraphs long and centred on statements by the Local Government Ombudsman and the Labour council leader and that the Liberal Democrats were not mentioned until the fourteenth paragraph. The publication also said that it had included quotes in the article from the complainant who had said that the blocked stories amounted to Liberal Democrats campaigning as the article had included criticism of the Labour party.
8. When reporting the complainant’s public statement regarding his possible “error of judgement”, the publication said the story did not say or suggest that he had issued an apology, but that he had made a public statement suggesting that blocking the stories may have been an error of judgement, which was accurate.
9. In relation to Clause 2, the publication rejected the complainant’s claim that he was not a public figure and said that he proactively promoted himself as a person of significance in Muswell Hill. It also said that the complainant, who had editorial control over a 20,000 member Facebook group, was able to publish a statement about a journalist in the group and that this was in the public domain.
10. The publication said that in regard to Clause 10, when the journalist had telephoned the complainant, the first thing he had told him was that he was a journalist from the publication. The publication said the complainant did not ask to go off-the-record at any time and as a result it treated his comments as being “on the record”. The journalist later informed him that the publication planned to publish an article about how he had been blocking stories about Cranwood, after which he continued speaking to the journalist for another ten minutes.
11. The publication said they would consider a letter from the complainant for publication in the letters columns of the newspaper as a resolution to the complaint.
Relevant Code Provisions
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 their private and family life, home, physical and mental 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 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge)
i) The press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices; or by intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, messages or emails; or by the unauthorised removal of documents or photographs; or by accessing digitally-held information without consent.
ii) Engaging in misrepresentation or subterfuge, including by agents or intermediaries, can generally be justified only in the public interest and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means.
12. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.
13. During IPSO’s investigation the complainant said that he would like the article to be taken down and receive some form of compensation.
14. The publication offered to remove the article from its website as a gesture of goodwill to resolve matters but did not offer compensation
15. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to his satisfaction.
16. As the complaint was successfully mediated,
the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had
been any breach of the Code.
Date complaint received: 09/03/2022
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 30/03/2022Back to ruling listing