Decision of the Complaints Committee 02478-14 Kumar v Telegraph & Argus
Summary of complaint
1. Amitabh Kumar complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Telegraph and Argus had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 4 (Harassment) and Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Doctor admits sexual assault”, published 16 August 2014.
2. The newspaper reported that the complainant had been sentenced following his conviction for sexually assaulting a girl on a bus. The article had been illustrated with a photograph of the complainant.
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate and significantly misleading as it had given “undue prominence” to his status as a non-practicing doctor. He argued that the fact that he is a doctor was not relevant to the case. He was also concerned that the caption to the photograph had said that it had been taken as he had been “coming out of court”; he said that the photograph had in fact been taken after he had been pursued by the photographer.
4. The complainant said that he had been harassed by the photographer who had taken his picture. He said that court staff had helped him avoid the photographer as he had left the building. The photographer had, however, “stalked” him for around 150 yards. He had been followed by the photographer and had been forced to run across a busy road. He said that the photographer had followed him for 300-400 yards in total. The fact that he sought help from court staff, and had been running away, clearly demonstrated that he did not wish to be photographed.
5. The complainant said that the conduct of the photographer represented an intrusion into his grief and shock, in breach of Clause 5. He said that the newspaper had been aware that he had wept while being sentenced, and yet a photographer still intruded into his grief by pursuing him.
6. The newspaper said that the reference to the complainant as a doctor had been accurate; the complainant had been described as a doctor in court, and described himself in correspondence as “Dr Amitabh Kumar”. The article had made clear that the complainant was a “qualified but not practicing doctor who works with vulnerable adults”.
7. The description of the complainant as coming out of the court was accurate; while the complainant may not have been immediately outside the court, he had just left the court building.
8. The newspaper said that as the complainant was a qualified doctor who was convicted of a sexual offence against a young girl, there was a clear public interest in taking his photograph. Nonetheless, it did not accept that the complainant had been harassed. The complainant had not asked the photographer to desist, nor had the photographer followed the complainant on to private property.
9. The newspaper provided a written statement from the photographer which set out his version of events. The photographer said that he had been unable to get a photograph of the complainant immediately outside of court. He had therefore circled around the building in hope of intercepting him, rather than following him directly. The complainant was photographed as he crossed the road; the photographer did not chase after the complainant.
10. The newspaper said that Clause 5 was not intended to cover circumstances in which people had been convicted of crime.
Relevant Code Provisions
11. 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 4 (Harassment)
i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.
ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on their property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.
Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock)
i) In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings, such as inquests.
Findings of the Committee
12. The complainant accepted that he was a qualified doctor, and had not disputed that this had been mentioned during the court proceedings. The description of him as such was not inaccurate or significantly misleading, and his concern about the prominence of the reference did not raise a breach of the Code. As the complainant had been photographed shortly after he had left court, the photograph’s caption had not been significantly misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1.
13. The complainant and the newspaper had provided somewhat contradictory accounts of the circumstances in which the complainant had been photographed. It was apparent that the complainant had taken steps to avoid having his picture taken, rather than making clear a request that the photographer desist. Even on the complainant’s account, his concern that he had been followed by a single photographer, over what was apparently a relatively short distance, did not constitute harassment or persistent pursuit, such as a raise breach of the Code. While the complainant had found the circumstances of his conviction distressing, the Committee did not find that the photographer had acted in an aggressive or intimidating fashion in seeking to obtain a photograph. It also noted that there is a public interest in identifying those convicted of crime. It did not establish a breach of Clause 4.
14. The terms of Clause 5 relate to the obligations of publications when reporting on instances of personal grief or shock, and are designed to protect victims, and their families, from unwanted journalistic intrusion and insensitivity when they are at their most vulnerable. Coverage following the complainant’s criminal conviction was not a circumstance which engaged the terms of Clause 5.
15. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 14/12/2014
Date decision issued: 24/03/2015Back to ruling listing