Decision of the Complaints Committee 03160-14 Ivleva v Leicester Mercury
Summary of complaint
1. Marina Ivleva complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Leicester Mercury 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 “Ukrainian internet bride in divorce battle with Leicester man over ‘300k worth of assets’” published online on 1 December 2014 and in print on 2 December 2014.
2. The complainant had grown up in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, had married a British man and was resident in the UK. Her husband had filed for divorce in 2013 and had been informed that she had already divorced him in Ukraine. The article was primarily a report of court proceedings, stating that the British courts had refused to recognise the Ukrainian decision, and that the complainant’s appeal of this judgment had been unsuccessful, leaving the complainant’s husband free to file for divorce in the UK. The article had also included comments made by the complainant’s husband to a journalist following the court case. He had said that she had considerable financial resources, while he was living in poverty.
3. The complainant said that the article had inaccurately reported her nationality. While she held passports from Ukraine, Russia and the UK, she considered herself to be Russian. She also considered this reference to her to be discriminatory. She said that her job title was “programme administrator”, rather than “senior administrator”. She was not a higher earner than her husband, and did not hold assets of £300,000, as claimed by her husband in the article. She considered that the newspaper should have contacted her for comment prior to publication.
4. The complainant also expressed concern that the publication of the article, and accompanying photograph, had intruded into her privacy. She said that the newspaper had stolen the photograph from her computer.
5. The newspaper defended its coverage as an accurate report of court proceedings, with further comments from the complainant’s husband. The copy had been provided by an agency. The reference to her nationality had formed part of the evidence heard in court, and had been mentioned several times. Given the nature of the case, it was clearly relevant to the report. The complainant’s husband had provided the estimate of her assets, and details of her employment. There was no obligation under Clause 2 to contact the subjects of stories for comment. Nonetheless, the newspaper had attempted to contact the complainant at home to request her comment on the verdict, but had been unsuccessful. Following receipt of her complaint, the newspaper had offered the complainant another opportunity to provide comments for a potential follow-up article. The photograph used in the story had been provided to the agency reporter by a source who had claimed to own the copyright for the image.
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.
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, 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.
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
7. The court had referred to the complainant’s Ukrainian background, and she had acknowledged that she held a Ukrainian passport. It was not therefore misleading to describe her as such. No pejorative reference had been made to her background, and the Code does not generally prevent the inclusion of biographical details about the subject of a story, including country of origin. Given that the article reported a court’s decision to overturn the complainant’s attempt to divorce her husband in Ukraine, her Ukrainian background was relevant to the story.
8. The Committee expressed concern about the article’s assertion that the complainant “rose to be a senior administrator at De Montfort University, becoming a much bigger earner than Mr Yates”. While this may have been based on a comment made by the complainant’s husband, it was not presented as such. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that she was not a higher earner than her former husband, and considered that the newspaper should have taken greater care to distinguish this statement as her husband’s assertion in question. On balance, however, and given that the rest of the article had made clear that the estimate of the value of the complainant’s assets was that of her husband, it did not consider that this statement raised a significant inaccuracy requiring correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii). Nonetheless, it was appropriate that, on receipt of the complaint, the newspaper had offered the complainant the opportunity to reply to this inaccuracy, in the spirit of the terms of Clause 2.
9. While the complainant disputed her husband’s estimate of her wealth, this was clearly presented as his opinion, and the newspaper was entitled to publish his comments. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. Nor was the discrepancy between the complainant’s reported job title of “senior administrator” and her role as a “programme administrator” significant enough to raise a breach of the Code.
10. The terms of Clause 2 do not oblige newspapers to seek comment from the subject of articles prior to publication, but provide an opportunity to respond to any published inaccuracies. The Committee noted that the newspaper had attempted to contact the complainant for comment, prior to comment, and had offered her a chance to comment further after receiving her complaint. The complainant had not explicitly requested a right to reply post publication, but had been offered one nonetheless. There was no breach of Clause 2.
11. The majority of detail included in the article had been given in open court, with further comments from the complainant’s husband. The article did not represent an unjustified intrusion into the complainant’s privacy. The photograph included appeared to have been taken in a public place with the complainant’s consent. It simply showed what she looked like and did not reveal any private information about her. Clause 3. The complainant had provided no grounds for her belief that this photograph had been stolen, and the Committee was satisfied that the agency reporter had obtained this image from a non-clandestine source.
12. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 25/12/2014
Date decision issued: 26/03/2015Back to ruling listing