02436-16 Jukes v The Sunday Telegraph
Summary of complaint
article followed media reports that Culture Secretary John Whittingdale had had
a relationship with a sex worker. It made a number of claims about Byline.com,
the site that had first reported the story, and the complainant, referred to in
the article as the site’s “manager”. The article reported details about the
site’s funding, noting that, while the complainant claimed the site was
“crowdfunded” by donations from readers, Companies House showed that it was largely
funded by three billionaires, and that it had also been funded by a named well
known individual. The article also claimed that the site, and the complainant,
had links to “controversial campaign group Hacked Off”.
online article was the same as the print version.
4. The complainant expressed concern that the newspaper had not contacted him, or Byline.com, prior to publication. He said that, as a result of this, the article included a number of inaccuracies.
complainant said that the article had misrepresented the way in which
Byline.com was funded. He said that any donations from readers were made to
individual journalists, to fund specific stories, and not to the site itself.
The site generally collected 15% of these donations towards running costs.
However, at the time that the well known individual had donated to a
journalist, all fees were waived, and so his donation had not contributed to
running costs. The complainant said that
he had not claimed that the site was “crowdfunded”, as reported; rather, he had
claimed that individual journalists were financed via crowdfunding. The
complainant said it was misleading for the article to suggest that the three
main funders of the site had been “revealed”; the information was available via
complainant said it was inaccurate to describe him as the “manager” of
Byline.com. Rather he had previously advised the site on crowdfunding, and now
had the role of “co-curator”. He also denied the article’s claim that he had
been “paid” by Hacked Off; he had once received an unsolicited donation from
the group via a crowdfunding platform, but had never been hired or employed by
complainant said that all journalists published by Byline.com were entitled to
present their own interpretation of events reported, and the site did not take
an editorial line. It was therefore misleading for the article to suggest that
Byline.com had changed its position on the Whittingdale story in stating that
the site “later admitted” that Mr Whittingdale’s former partner’s alleged
connections to the criminal underworld were “as yet unsubstantiated”. The complainant also said it was inaccurate
to report that “Byline worked alongside Hacked Off to promote the story to the
BBC and other outlets”. Furthermore, Jae-woong Lee, a South Korean billionaire
who funded Byline.com, was not the father of the site’s founder Seung-yoon Lee
complainant said that it was inaccurate to report that Byline.com shared a
number of journalists with “investigative site Exaro”; only one contributor had
written for both sites. Nor had Byline.com promoted claims of a “’Westminster
child sex abuse ring’ involving prominent establishment figures” as reported.
complainant also said that it was inaccurate to report that one of the founders
of Byline.com, “wrote regularly” for another named site; the site had “pirated”
the articles from other sources.
10. The newspaper noted that there was no
obligation to seek comment from the subjects of news stories prior to
publication. The majority of information in the article had come from sources
in the public domain. The journalist had been told by a source close to
Byline.com that Jae-woong Lee and Seung-yoon Lee were related. He trusted that
the source was in a position to know this information, and so had not verified
the claim with the site. The newspaper did not accept that this was a
significant inaccuracy, given that the relationship was only introduced
parenthetically, in the context of an article setting out the main backers of
Byline.com. Nonetheless, it had removed the reference to the relationship from
the article as a gesture of goodwill and offered to publish the following
CORRECTION: As first published, this article wrongly stated that Jae-Woong Lee, a funder of byline.com, is the father of the site's founder Seung-yoon Lee. In fact, the two men are unrelated. We are happy to make this clear, and the article has been amended accordingly.
An article of 17 April wrongly stated that
Jae-Woong Lee, a funder of byline.com, is the father of the site's founder
Seung-yoon Lee. In fact, the two men are unrelated. We are happy to make this
11. The newspaper did not accept that the article
included any other inaccuracies. The LinkedIn page of the site’s founder
referred to the complainant as its manager. Furthermore, the newspaper did not
consider any discrepancy between “manager” and “co-curator” to be significant.
The newspaper noted that the complainant had confirmed that he had received
money from Hacked Off, and that the named well known individual had contributed
to Byline.com, in funding one story. The newspaper noted that between the
publication of the first article on Byline.com about John Whittingdale and the
reporting of the story by the BBC, Byline.com ran four more articles on the
matter, and retweeted individuals with links to Hacked Off, asking when the BBC
would act. Hacked Off issued a press release referring readers to the
Byline.com piece. It was not therefore inaccurate to report that the site had
worked alongside Hacked Off to promote the story to the BBC.
12. The newspaper noted that Byline.com had
published an article on 1 April, in which it reported that “while [Mr
Whittingdale’s former partner] was involved with Whittingdale, [she] was also
involved in a relationship with a member of the London underworld”. A further article appeared on the site on 10
April, which noted that rumours that the woman had connections to the criminal
underworld were “as yet unsubstantiated”.
13. The newspaper provided articles published on
Byline.com which appeared to defend the investigation into the alleged
“Westminster child sex abuse ring”, it noted that at least three Byline.com
writers, including the complainant, had contributed to Exaro, and that the
complainant had written at least two articles for the site.
14. The newspaper noted that the founder’s articles
remained published on the named site, and had not been removed.
Relevant Code provisions
Findings of the Committee
17. The claim that one of the site’s funders was
the father of the site’s founder was inaccurate, and the Committee welcomed the
newspaper’s offer of correction. However, this was a brief reference which was
not central to the story, and did not affect the overall thrust of the piece.
It was not therefore a significant inaccuracy in breach of Clause 1.
18. The Committee did not accept the rigid
distinction that the complainant sought to draw between funding for the site’s
infrastructure and funding for the content. It did not therefore consider that
it was misleading to characterise funding provided to individual journalists to
provide specific content for Byline.com as funding for the site. It was not
therefore misleading for the article to report that the notable donor had
“funded” the site, nor that the complainant has claimed that the site was
“crowdfunded”. The article had not suggested that details of the site’s funders
were hidden, rather it sought to criticise the complainant for claiming the
source of the funding was “crowdsourcing” where in fact the site also received
money from wealthy donors.
19. The Committee did not consider that any
discrepancy between the role of “co-curator” and “manager” was significant.
There was no breach of the Code on this point. The complainant had acknowledged
that he had previously received money from Hacked Off. The article had not
claimed that he had been employed by the group, and it was not inaccurate to
report that he had “been paid by” them, even though he had also received money
20. The Committee noted the complainant’s position
that Byline.com did not take single editorial approaches to any one issue.
However, the site had published an article which claimed that Mr Whittingdale’s
former partner had links to the criminal underworld and had later published a
second article noting that these claims were “as yet unsubstantiated”. The
newspaper was entitled to characterise the differing approaches of these
articles in the way that it did.
21. The newspaper had provided examples of articles
published by Byline.com, supporting the theory that there was a “Westminster
sex abuse” ring, and at least three journalists who had written for the site
also had profiles at Exaro. It was not therefore misleading for the article to
report that the site had “promoted and defended” the sex abuse theory, and that
it shared a number of journalists with Exaro.
22. Byline.com had followed up its first story
about Mr Whittingdale’s relationship with a number of other articles on the
subject. Hacked Off had published a blog post, questioning why the story had
not previously been reported by the mainstream media. This post had been
promoted on Twitter by representatives of Hacked Off and by Byline.com. The
newspaper had not suggested that there was evidence of collaboration between
the two, but had noted that they were working in parallel to achieve a shared
aim. Given that the objective of both groups was to ensure that the story was
published more widely, it was not significantly misleading for the newspaper to
characterise Byline.com as “working alongside” Hacked Off “to promote the story
to the BBC and other outlets”.
23. In circumstances where the founder’s work
appeared regularly on the named site, the newspaper was entitled to report that
he “wrote” for the site. In the absence of a direct complaint from the founder,
the Committee was unable to establish whether or not he had consented to
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 18/04/2016
Date decision issued: 10/08/2016