Decision of the Complaints Committee – 02118-21 Keen v That’s Life
Summary of Complaint
1. William Keen complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that That’s Life breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Cheat in the birthing suite”, published on 4 February 2021.
2. The article was told from a first-person perspective, and detailed the experience of a woman who said she had discovered her partner had been having an affair while she was pregnant with his child, and their subsequent separation. It reported, from the woman’s perspective, her discovery of the affair after seeing messages from a woman referred to in the article as “Tanya” on a phone used by her partner. The article included several pictures of the woman’s ex-partner, one of which showed the ex-partner holding their young child, and a screenshot of one of the messages reported to be from “Tanya”, with identifying details removed.
3. The complainant was the woman’s ex-partner. He first said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as he had not had an affair during his relationship, noting also that he had never met a woman named Tanya. He said that he had had one phone conversation with the magazine, prior to the article’s publication, during which he had made clear that he did not agree with his ex-partner’s version of events. He said he had not heard again from the publication until the story was published over a year later.
4. The complainant said that the article also breached Clause 2, as it included several pictures of him, as well as one of his son, and he had not consented to the publication of these photographs, and he did not believe that his son’s mother – with whom he shared custody of his son – had. He said that a further breach of Clause 6 had arisen from the publication of the photograph of his son, noting that he was careful to keep his son’s likeness off his social media platforms due to safety concerns and that – to the best of his awareness – his son’s mother also did not post pictures of their son on public social media.
5. The publication said it did not accept that the article had breached the Editors’ Code. Turning first to the concerns raised by the complainant under the terms of Clause 1, it noted that it had seen messages between the complainant’s ex-partner and a woman who the article referred to as “Tanya” – to protect her identity – which confirmed that both women believed he had been in romantic relationships with them when his ex-partner was pregnant. It said that it had attempted to contact the complainant several times to get his side of the story, and give him the opportunity to comment on his ex-partner’s narrative. However, after saying that he would only comment over the phone, and rearranging a phone call with the magazine twice, he had stopped answering his phone and replying to the magazine’s messages. It also said that a journalist had contacted him in response to a complaint he lodged with the magazine following publication of the article, and had explained that the magazine had tried to reach out to him several times but had been unable to make contact. The publication provided a message exchanged between the complainant’s ex-partner and the woman with whom he had allegedly had an affair, to support its position that it had access to these messages prior to publication and therefore was satisfied that the ex-partner’s story was accurate. It also provided the messages and phone calls between the magazine and the complainant prior to the article’s publication; in the phone calls and messages the complainant acknowledged the allegations, and said he would reply to them at a later time, ending both phone calls by rearranging for a later date.
6. The publication said that it had permission from the man’s ex-partner, the mother of his son, to publish photographs of his son; it also said that the man’s ex-partner’s had provided the pictures published in the article. It provided a message between the ex-partner and the magazine, demonstrating that she had given her permission for the publication of photographs of the complainant’s son. It also provided screenshots of the ex-partner’s social media profiles at the time of the article’s publication; the screenshots showed similar pictures of both the complainant and his son to those featured in the article, and demonstrated that they were – at the time of the article’s publication – viewable by the general public.
7. Finally, the newspaper noted that it was the right of the complainant’s ex-partner to tell her story, and share her experiences. This was her right, regardless of whether the complainant wished to keep the details of their relationship private.
8. The complainant reiterated that he considered the article had breached the Editors’ Code, noting that his ex-partner could not give permission for the publication of photographs which showed his likeness, and that the photographs included in the article were not the same photographs which had been published on his ex-partner’s social media accounts. He also noted that, in the recording of the phone calls, he had made no comment on the accuracy of the story; nor had the publication discussed his privacy or the privacy of his young son in the phone calls.
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 6 (Children)*
iii) Children under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child’s welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.
Findings of the Committee
9. While the magazine was entitled to share the ex-partner’s story, it had to do so without breaching the terms of the Code. In relation to Clause 1, this meant that the publication had to take care to ensure that the article was not inaccurate, misleading, or distorted and – if appropriate – give the complainant the opportunity to reply to inaccuracies.
10. The publication had taken care to verify the ex-partner’s story – it had sight of messages between the ex-partner and woman with whom the complainant allegedly had an affair, which supported the narrative of the ex-partner. In addition, it had attempted, several times, to contact the complainant to allow him to put his side of the story on record. A journalist working for the publication had kept a record of the attempts to contact the complainant, by recording the conversations and keeping the messages attempting to set up a phone call. The Committee was satisfied that the publication had taken care not to publish inaccurate, misleading, or distorted information. It was also satisfied that the complainant had been given sufficient opportunity – where over a year had passed, according to the complainant, between when he was contacted by the magazine and the article’s publication – to comment on the narrative of his ex-partner, and to dispute any points of fact which he considered to be inaccurate, misleading, or distorted. There was no breach of Clause 1.
11. The article included three pictures of the complainant – two depicting the complainant and his former partner and one of the complainant with his young son. He had not consented to the publication of these pictures. The Committee was mindful of the terms of Clause 2, which state that everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, and that individuals should not be photographed without their consent in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. The Clause also makes clear that the Committee should, when assessing potential breaches of the Clause, have mind of the complainant’s reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to the material complained of; this includes taking into account the extent to which the material may be in the public domain.
12. The photographs included in the article showed the complainant pictured beside his ex-partner and his infant son and did not show him engaged in any private activity. Whilst the photographs did not appear to be publicly available on the social media of the complainant’s ex-partner, the photographs did not reveal any information about the complainant in respect of which he had a reasonable expectation of privacy and the magazine was therefore not required to seek his consent prior to the photographs’ publication. The Committee noted also that the magazine had obtained the pictures from the complainant’s ex-partner and that, therefore, they had not been obtained in a manner which demonstrated a lack of respect for the man’s private life. There was no breach of Clause 2 with respect to the publication of the photographs of the complainant.
13. The publication had obtained consent of the complainant’s ex-partner – the mother of his son, and a custodial parent – for the publication of the article and photographs showing the complainant’s son. The magazine had messages which demonstrated this, a copy of which had been forwarded to the Committee. The Committee noted that difficulties can arise when there is dispute between parents regarding whether a photograph should be published. However, Clause 6 requires only that a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consent. The complainant had not disputed that his son’s mother was a responsible adult as defined by the terms of Clause 6; rather, he had disputed that she had given her consent at all, and the publication was able to demonstrate that she had. Where the mother of the pictured child had given her consent for the publication of his photographs, there was no breach of either Clause 2 or Clause 6 with respect to the photographs of the complainant’s son.
14. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 04/03/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 26/07/2021Back to ruling listing