Decision of the Complaints Committee 02405-15 A man v The Sun
Summary of complaint
1. A man complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Pervy sir posed as girl, 15, on the internet“, published on 31 March 2015.
2. The newspaper reported that the complainant had been banned from teaching by the National College for Teaching and Leadership’s (NCTL) professional conduct panel after he was caught posing on an online chatroom as a 15-year-old girl, during lessons.
3. The article said that the complainant had “sent explicit online messages to a string of teenage girls”. It was illustrated with a photograph of the complainant.
4. The complainant was concerned that the article included inaccurate and private information. He said that the panel had not made a finding that he had messaged “a string of teenage girls”; he said that he believed he had been talking to people, mainly men, in the age range of 22 and above. He also said that it was misleading to describe him as “pervy” as this suggested sexual motivation. He said that the NCTL had agreed that the incident had not been sexually motivated.
5. The complainant also said that the use of his photograph represented an intrusion into his privacy.
6. The newspaper did not accept that the article represented a breach of the Code. It said that it had been entitled to rely on the information provided in the official report, which stated that the complainant had been having up to seven sexually explicit conversations at once. He had accessed an internet chat room for teenagers, and had actively chosen to enter discussion with the teenage age group. There was no proof that he had been speaking to “older people”.
7. The complainant had accepted that the conversations were inappropriate and sexually explicit in nature. The newspaper maintained that the use of the term “pervy” was entirely accurate tabloid terminology given the nature of the conversations. It had provided an example from the NCTL report of a sexually explicit comment made by the complainant during one exchange. It also noted that the article had included the complainant’s denial that his activity had been sexually motivated.
8. The newspaper said that the photograph had been a publicity shot for a film, which had been available on a publicly accessible Facebook page.
Relevant Code Provisions
9. 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 3 (Privacy)
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent. Note – Private places are public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Findings of the Committee
10. The NCTL panel found that the complainant had chosen to access an internet chatroom for teenagers, and had engaged in several conversations of an inappropriate and sexually explicit nature. The panel had not made a specific finding regarding the ages of the people the complainant had been talking to. It had however noted that the complainant had actively chosen to enter part of the site designed for the teenage age group. It was therefore not significantly misleading to report that the complainant had sent explicit messages to a string of teenagers. In this context of the allegations, and the findings of the panel, the gender of the individuals to whom the complainant had been speaking was not a significant detail. There was no breach of the Code on these points.
11. The complainant had admitted sending sexually explicit messages while posing as a 15 year-old, and that he had accessed the website when students had been present. The text of article had explained the complainant’s conduct, and had included the complainant’s denial that the offences were sexually motivated. The newspaper had been entitled to comment on the complainant’s behaviour. There was no breach of Clause 1.
12. The complainant’s photograph, which had been taken from a publicly accessible Facebook page, did not disclose any private information about the complainant. The publication of the photograph did not raise a breach of Clause 3.
13. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 01/04/2015
Date decision issued: 22/05/2015
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