Decision of the Complaints Committee 03158-14 Ivleva v Mail Online
Summary of complaint
Summary of complaint
1. Marina Ivleva complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply), Clause 3 (Privacy), Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Cash-strapped truck drive is battling Ukrainian internet bride in divorce courts for his ‘fair share’ of her wealth after she came to Britain to marry him and made a fortune”, published on 1 December 2014.
2. The article reported details of the complainant’s divorce proceedings. She grew up in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, is resident in the UK, and was married to a British man. The complainant had attempted to divorce her husband in Ukraine, but this was not accepted by the UK courts. The article was predominantly a report of the Court of Appeal decision which allowed the complainant’s husband to pursue a divorce case in Britain. It also included comments which her former husband had made to a journalist after the judgment. He claimed that he was living in poverty and would seek financial orders against the complainant, who he claimed had assets valued at £300,000.
3. The complainant denied that she had assets of £300,000, as claimed by her husband in the report, nor was she a “senior administrator” at De Montfort University. In fact, she was a “programme administrator”. She also said that it was inaccurate to describe her as Ukrainian; while she possessed three passports, British, Ukrainian and Russian, she considered herself Russian. She considered the description of her as “Ukrainian” to be discriminatory.
4. The complainant also said that she should have been contacted for comment prior to publication. She said that the article represented an intrusion into her private life, and had been illustrated with photographs stolen from her computer and her loft.
5. The publication defended its coverage as an accurate report of two separate public court hearings. The agency reporter who had provided the copy had spoken to the complainant’s husband outside court and asked him about the complainant’s employment and financial status. The article had included his comments. The publication noted that the terms of Clause 2 do not impose an obligation to seek comment prior to publication. Regardless, it had attempted to contact the complainant for her comments for inclusion in a follow-up article. Furthermore, once the publication had become aware that the complainant disputed her husband’s estimate of her assets it had removed this reference from the article.
6. The complainant acknowledged that she held a Ukrainian passport, and it was therefore not inaccurate to describe her as Ukrainian. However, the publication offered to amend her nationality if it would resolve the complaint. Given that the central issue of the court case was the complainant’s attempt to divorce her husband in Ukraine, her Ukrainian background was relevant to the story. The photographs used in the story had been provided to the agency reporter by the complainant’s husband. Some of these had been removed following receipt of the complaint.
Relevant Code Provisions
7. 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.
Clause 3 (Privacy)
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence.
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.
Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge)
i) The press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices; or by intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, messages or emails; or by the unauthorised removal of documents or photographs; or by accessing digitally-held private information without consent.
Clause 12 (Discrimination)
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
ii) Details of an individual’s race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
Findings of the Committee
8. The Press is free to report the comment of individuals. In this instance, the reference to the value of the complainant’s assets was clearly presented as an estimate given by her husband, with the article stating that “Mr Yates, 59, values [her assets] at close to £300,000”, and that she had “amassed £300,000, he says”. The publication was entitled to report comments made by the complainant’s husband and in doing so had not breached the terms of the Code.
9. The reference to the complainant’s job title had also been appeared in the context of comments made by her husband. While the Committee noted the complainant’s position, the discrepancy between the reported job title “senior administrator” and her position as a “programme administrator” did not constitute a significant inaccuracy requiring correction. Given that the complainant acknowledged that she held a Ukrainian passport, it was not inaccurate to describe her as Ukrainian.
10. The terms of Clause 2 do not require publications to ask the subjects of stories for comment prior to publication, but provide the opportunity to respond to published inaccuracies. In light of the trivial nature of the inaccuracy regarding the complainant’s job title, the Committee did not consider that an opportunity to reply was required in this instance.
11. The article was primarily a report of court proceedings, information which had already been placed in the public domain. While the complainant did not consider the details of her divorce to be newsworthy, this did not affect the publication’s right to publish information given in court. The two details which did not appear to have been previously heard in court related to her husband’s claims about her assets, and the nature of her employment. The Committee did not consider that the publication of this information constituted a failure to respect her private life; there was no breach of Clause 3.
12. The complainant had not provided grounds for her belief that a journalist had stolen photographs from her computer or loft. The Committee was satisfied that the pictures had been provided to the news agency by the complainant’s husband, in compliance with the Code.
13. There had been no pejorative reference to the complainant in relation to any of the characteristics covered by the terms of Clause 12, and this Clause does not generally prohibit the inclusion of biographical details such as nationality. In any case, given the complainant’s attempt to divorce her husband in Ukraine, and the subsequent overturning of proceedings by the UK Courts, her Ukrainian background was relevant to the story. There was no breach of Clause 12.
14. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 25/12/2014
Date decision issued: 26/03/2015Back to ruling listing