Decision of the Complaints Committee 02471-14 Baird v Motherwell Times & Bellshill Speaker
Summary of complaint
1. Linda Baird complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Motherwell Times & Bellshill Speaker had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Bellshill pensioner: I’m blinded by the light, councillor”, published on 10 December 2014.
2. The article was about a dispute over a security light. The light had been installed on the complainant’s property, and a neighbour, Jean Reid, had complained that it was shining into her living room. The article reported that “Mrs Reid (72) said she complained to Councillor Baird’s wife, Linda, and she agreed the light was ‘annoying’”.
3. The complainant complained that the newspaper had “put words in my mouth”, but did not confirm or deny that she had told Mrs Reid that the light was “annoying”. In addition, she was concerned that the article might have suggested that she found the light personally annoying, rather than that she agreed with Mrs Reid that the light would be annoying for her. She said that when the newspaper spoke to her husband, he told the reporter that he was not present at the conversation between Mrs Reid and the complainant, and suggested that the reporter speak to the complainant about it.
4. The complainant was concerned that the article intruded into her privacy. She said that she was a teacher, and that the identity of her husband and her address was private information.
5. The newspaper said that the quotation was accurate. It said it had put Mrs Reid’s claim to the complainant’s husband, who did not deny that his wife would have made such a comment. In addition, it denied the complainant’s husband had suggested that the reporter speak to the complainant about the comment. Nevertheless, it acknowledged that it would have been better to put the quotation to the complainant, and offered to publish an apology to the complainant on this basis.
Relevant Code Provisions
6. 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. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance.
iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Clause 3 (Privacy)
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.
ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information.
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
7. The newspaper was entitled to report Mrs Reid’s side of the dispute over the security light. The Committee noted that the complainant did not confirm or deny that she had told Mrs Reid that the light was annoying, and in circumstances where the comments of Councillor Baird had been reported, reporting Mrs Reid’s account without the benefit of the complainant’s response did not demonstrate a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article. There was no breach of Clause 1.
8. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern that the article contained her personal details such as the identity of her husband and the name of the street on which she lived. This information is not generally considered to be private; the complainant did not provide grounds to show that publishing this information represented an intrusion into her privacy. There was no breach of Clause 3.
9. The Committee welcomed the newspaper’s efforts to resolve this matter.
10. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 13/12/2014
Date decision issued: 17/03/2015
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