· Decision of the Complaints Committee 04425-15 A woman v The Herald (Glasgow)
Summary of complaint
1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Herald (Glasgow) had breached Clause 3 (Privacy) and Clause 14 (Confidential sources) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Survivor of London’s 7/7 suicide bombings quits Scotland after stalker ordeal”, published on 7 July 2015.
2. The article was an interview with the complainant which was published on the anniversary of the 7 July 2005 bombings. It reported that she had left London following the attacks, and had now had to move again as she had been the victim of stalking.
3. The complainant said that she had been contacted by a freelance journalist, a man with whom she had previously worked, who wanted to interview her; they arranged a telephone call. The complainant said that during the call they discussed her experiences of the bombings, the fact that she was being stalked and had had to move home a number of times, and her career. She said that she had asked that no details relating to her being stalked be published; those details were “between them”. The complainant said that she had also asked that her current location not be revealed, in order to protect her safety; this omission had been agreed by the journalist.
4. About an hour after the interview the journalist rang the complainant to ask if she had reported the stalking matter to the police; she said that she told him during this conversation that the details relating to her stalking were private. Five hours later she emailed the journalist to say that she had been thinking about the conversation and was concerned about the inclusion in the article of any reference to her being stalked. The email said “you’ll recall that I specifically asked that none of that information should be included. I would therefore appreciate if you could remove any reference to the stalking situation from your article.” The journalist replied saying that the story had been written and submitted to publications, and it included that the reason why the complainant had left Scotland was that she was being stalked. He said that his understanding was that the complainant had requested that nothing in the article reveal where she was living now, and he had ensured that that was the case. His email read “I did tell you that I wd of course be mentioning the stalking issue and asked for details which you gave me in brief. I telephoned you again later to confirme [sic] you had reported it to the police, which you did.” The complainant acknowledged in correspondence with IPSO that it was clear from the journalist’s recollection of the conversation that he had not heard her request. The journalist told her that it was too late to remove the story from the next day’s newspaper.
5. The newspaper said that no reader would have been able to identify the complainant’s current place of residence from the article, and it did not understand how her safety could have been compromised by the story. It said that, if the journalist had contacted the newspaper after the complainant had raised her concerns via email, it would not necessarily have been too late to pull the story, and the editorial team could have discussed whether or not that course of action was appropriate. At the time of publication the newspaper had no concerns about the copy; was confident that the complainant had spoken willingly to the journalist; and believed that there was no risk of her place of residence being revealed.
6. The complainant also complained about similar articles in two other newspapers. During the investigation into one of those complaints, it became clear that the complainant had spoken about the fact that she was being stalked during a speech at a conference in 2015, as she called for unions to increase measures to protect women in the entertainment industry. An article about that speech had been published on the website of a specialist newspaper.
Relevant Code Provisions
7. 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.
Clause 14 (Confidential sources)
Journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information.
The public interest
4. The Regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain, or will become so.
Findings of the Committee
8. The Committee understood that the complainant was in a vulnerable position, and that she was concerned for her safety.
9. The initial conversation had been clearly distinguished as an interview for publication, and the journalist was someone with whom the complainant had previously worked. The Committee noted the complainant’s acceptance that the journalist had not acknowledged her request, and it was clear that there had been no specific agreement to exclude details about the stalking from the article. In addition, the information was already in the public domain following the complainant’s conference speech. The article under complaint had not given any indication of the complainant’s current place of residence, and so the Committee did not consider that the newspaper’s actions had compromised the complainant’s safety. The Committee found that the article did not represent an unjustified intrusion into the complainant’s private life; the complaint under Clause 3 was not upheld. However, the Committee did express concern that the journalist had not passed on the complainant’s privacy concerns to the newspaper, when he was contacted prior to publication.
10. There was no suggestion that an agreement had been made that the complainant be treated as a confidential source; there was no breach of Clause 14.
11. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 13/07/2015
Date decision issued: 08/09/2015Back to ruling listing