Decision of the Complaints Committee 01983-15 Foster v Event Magazine
Summary of complaint
1. Marvin Foster complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Event Magazine had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply), Clause 3 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Harassment), Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock), Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) and Clause 14 (Confidential sources) in an article headlined “Staff Warehouse workers begin employment tribunal process”, published on 25 March 2015.
2. The article reported that employees previously hired by Staff Warehouse were beginning the employment tribunal process over concerns about non-payment. The complainant, managing director of Staff Warehouse, was quoted in the article as saying that “these staff are being paid”.
3. The complainant was concerned that the article was inaccurate as workers had not begun the employment tribunal process. He also said that the article represented a breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) and Clause 14 (Confidential sources) as the article had included comments from his correspondence, which he said was not intended for publication. His comment had been included in an email which had said he would “not engage” with the magazine.
4. The complainant said that the newspaper had breached Clause 4 (Harassment) as he had spoken to the publication and asked them to “leave it” as he was dealing with the staff himself. He also said that the article represented a breach of Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock).
5. The complainant also expressed concern that the magazine had spoken to former employees who had recorded conversations without consent, in breach of Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge).
6. The magazine did not accept that the article represented a breach of Code. It said that the article was of significant public interest, and proper steps had been taken prior to publication to verify its accuracy.
7. The magazine said that it had become aware of a Facebook group which contained comments from people who claimed to be owed money by the company. The reporter had contacted the complainant who had admitted that there were a few “slightly delayed” payments but it was “nothing major”.
8. The reporter was contacted by members of the group, some of whom wished to remain anonymous and some of whom were happy to go on record. One of the people she interviewed said that he was owed £872. The magazine took the view that there was a public interest in the story, and decided to ask the complainant for further comment.
9. The complainant had emailed the reporter and said “I will not engage with either you or your staff as you are part of the FB [Facebook] chain / Group which violated me as a person. These staff are being paid”. The complainant’s response did not say that these comments were not for publication. As it was said in response to a request for comment, the magazine considered that it had been reasonable to assume his comments could be published.
10. The magazine subsequently received confirmation of the commencement of the employment tribunal process via the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) Early Conciliation Service. It provided a copy of the certificate.
11. The magazine offered the complainant the opportunity to participate in a follow up article. The complainant declined to participate.
Relevant Code Provisions
12. 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.
Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply)
A fair opportunity to reply to inaccuracies must be given when reasonably called for.
Clause 3 (Privacy)
Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.
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; nor remain on their property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.
Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock)
i) In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings, such as inquests.
Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge)
The press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices.
Clause 14 (Confidential source)
Journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information.
Findings of the Committee
13. The magazine had spoken to former employees, some of whom had commented on the record. It had asked the complainant for comment on the allegations of non-payment, and had obtained documentation from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service which indicated that employees had taken the first step to commence proceedings. The Committee was therefore satisfied that the magazine had not failed to take care over the accuracy of the article. There was no breach of Clause 1 (i). On the basis of the evidence provided by the magazine, the Committee did not find that it had been inaccurate to report that workers were beginning the employment tribunal process. There was no breach of Clause 1.
14. The article had included the complainant’s comment that “these staff are being paid”. While the Committee noted the complainant’s position that he had not intended this comment for publication, it had been included in correspondence to the magazine in response to a request for comment, and the correspondence had not made clear that it was not for publication. The remark did not include any private information and its publication did not represent an intrusion into his privacy. There was no breach of Clause 3. There had been no suggestion that the complainant should be considered a confidential source. There was no breach of Clause 14.
15. The magazine had attempted to contact the complainant for comment prior to the publication of the article to ensure that the article accurately reflected his position. There was no suggestion that the reporter had made approaches to the complainant following a request to desist. There was no breach of Clause 4.
16. Clause 2 provides individuals the opportunity to respond to published inaccuracies when reasonably called for. The Committee had not established the existence of inaccuracies such as to have engaged the terms of the Code. Nonetheless, it welcomed the magazine’s offer for the complainant to contribute to a follow-up article.
17. The terms of Clause 5 relate to the obligations of publications when reporting on instances of personal grief or shock, and are designed to protect victims, and their families, from unwanted journalistic intrusion and insensitivity when they are at their most vulnerable. Coverage about the complainant’s business did not engage the terms of Clause 5.
18. The Committee noted that the complainant had also expressed concern that former employees had recorded conversations without his consent. The complainant had not suggested that the magazine had sought to obtain, or published, material acquired by use of a clandestine device. The terms of Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) were not engaged.
19. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 26/03/2015
Date decision issued: 25/06/2015Back to ruling listing