· Decision of the Complaints Committee 02475-15 Jackson v Daily Mirror
Summary of complaint
1. Taj Jackson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mirror had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Jacko’s £134m in hush money”, published in print and online on 6 April 2015.
2. The article reported that two men who had allegedly been abused as children by Michael Jackson were seeking to bring new civil cases against the late singer’s Estate, in which they would be able to introduce “damning evidence” which had not been heard at his trial in 2005. The article included claims, which it indicated were from lawyers, that Mr Jackson had paid “up to £134m” to silence alleged victims. It also included a comment made by Mr Jackson’s sister LaToya in 1993 in reference to one of the individuals seeking to bring the new case. She had stated that she wished “not to be a silent collaborator in my brother’s crimes”.
3. The complainant, Michael Jackson’s nephew, said that the article made a number of claims for which it was not able to provide evidence or sources. He noted that the article had not indicated which “lawyers” had claimed that his uncle had paid £134million to alleged victims of abuse, or provided a source for its assertion that “damning evidence” had been omitted from his uncle’s trial in 2005. He considered that the description of the evidence as “damning” was conjecture on the newspaper’s part, and had not been clearly distinguished as such. An individual who had claimed he had been abused by the complainant’s uncle had recently sought to bring a new case in relation to these allegations. A judge had not allowed this case to proceed, because it was out of time. Furthermore, the complainant objected to the inclusion of the comments made by LaToya Jackson, which he said had been made under duress and which she had later publicly retracted.
4. The complainant also said that the newspaper should have sought comment from his uncle’s Estate, or his family. He considered the fact that they were not contacted prior to publication to be a breach of Clause 2.
5. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the information relating to the money paid to alleged victims by Mr Jackson had been widely reported in the press. Before re-publishing, the newspaper’s reporter had contacted the American journalist who had originally reported the information, to ask for further details on the source. The American journalist declined to reveal the sources, for reasons of confidentiality, but maintained that they were impeccable, and included an advisor to the grand jury, a prosecutor and a sheriff’s investigator. The £134m figure included money paid to legal representatives and investigators, as well as to alleged victims. The “damning evidence” mentioned in the article referred to evidence omitted from Mr Jackson’s trial in 2005, as detailed in press court reports at the time. Specifically, it referred to the evidence of one alleged victim identifying intimate details about Mr Jackson’s body, which may be allowed to be considered in any future civil trial. Prior to publication, the reporter had attempted to contact a representative of the Estate by telephone, and had not received a response.
6. LaToya Jackson had made the comments attributed to her in 1993, and these were not inaccurate.
7. In order to resolve the complaint, the newspaper offered to make some amendments to the online article, changing “damning evidence”, to “potentially damning evidence”, and adding the following phrase after LaToya Jackson’s comments, “a statement LaToya has since retracted”, and placing the following footnote beneath the article:
Jackson’s nephew Taj would like to make clear that the family disputes the claims that £134m was paid in hush money and that there is potentially damning evidence that could be introduced in the upcoming civil trial against Michael Jackson’s estate.
It also offered to publish the following clarification on page 2 of an upcoming print edition, and to publish a follow-up story, making clear that the case referred to in the article had not been allowed to proceed:
Under the headline “Jacko’s £134m in hush money” dated 6 April we published claims that Michael Jackson had ‘paid of 20 of his child sex-abuse victims’ and that there is a possibility that new ‘potentially damning evidence’ may be introduced in an upcoming civil trial against his estate. Jackson’s nephew, Taj, would like to make clear that the family dispute these claims.
Relevant Code Provisions
8. 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.
iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply)
A fair opportunity to reply to inaccuracies must be given when reasonably called for.
Findings of the Committee
9. The Committee acknowledged that the complainant disputed the accuracy of lawyers’ claims that his uncle had paid £134m to alleged victims of abuse. It noted, however, that the case which the lawyers had sought to bring had been disallowed by a judge as it was out of time. Any claims which formed part of this case had not therefore been placed into the public domain. The complainant was not in a position to dispute that the claims in the article had been made by lawyers in relation to this case, nor could the Committee reach a conclusion on whether such claims had been made by lawyers. The newspaper was entitled to report the claims, provided that they were clearly presented as such. In this case, the references to this sum were clearly presented as “claims” made by lawyers, rather than as fact established by a court or other authority. The Committee welcomed the newspaper’s offer to publish a follow-up story, making clear that the case in question had not been able to proceed.
10. The complainant had not disputed that at the time of publication two individuals were seeking to bring a civil case against his uncle’s estate in relation to allegations of historic abuse, and that they were hoping that the court would take into account evidence not previously considered. The newspaper was entitled to present the belief of those seeking to bring this evidence that it was “damning”, and doing so did not raise a breach of Clause 1.
11. The newspaper was free to report comments made by LaToya Jackson in reference to one of the individuals seeking to bring a civil claim against the Estate. Where it was not in dispute that she had made these comments, it was not inaccurate to publish them. Nonetheless, the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s offer to clarify that these comments had subsequently been retracted.
12. The terms of Clause 2 do not include an obligation to seek comment prior to publication; rather they provide an opportunity to reply to published inaccuracies. In this instance, the newspaper had offered to publish the family’s position that the claims in the article were not accurate. There was no breach of Clause 2.
13. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 04/06/2015
Date decision issued: 16/09/2015Back to ruling listing