· Decision of the Complaints Committee 02481-14 Kumar v The Sun
Summary of complaint
Summary of complaint
1. Amitabh Kumar complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun 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 “Drunken bus doc ‘stroked’ girl of 15”, published 18 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.
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 as the complainant’s profession had been referenced in court. It also noted that the complainant signed his complaint as “Dr Amitabh Kumar”.
7. The newspaper said that the picture had been provided by another publication. The photographer had been sent to cover the case; he had stood at least 150 yard from the court. The photograph had been taken on a public highway, and did not represent a breach of the Code.
8. The newspaper did not accept that the complaint raised a breach of Clause 5.
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 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
10. 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. There was no breach of Clause 1.
11. 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.
12. 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.
13. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 14/12/2014
Date decision issued: 24/03/2015Back to ruling listing