Decision of the Complaints Committee 04467-19 Law MP v Daily Record
Summary of complaint
1. Chris Law MP complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Record breached Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article headlined "Nats of vipers" published on 17 May 2019.
2. The article reported on “infighting” within the Dundee branch of the Scottish National Party. It reported that the complainant had "courted headlines” when the publication had previously reported his intention to buy a named property in Angus in 2016. The article went on to report that the complainant had "claimed he wanted to turn the [property] into a holiday spot for disabled children, with the facility to be run by his partner" but "three years later, the proposed disabled centre has not materialised and the couple appear to live in the property".
3. The article appeared in much the same format online under the headline "SNP infighting more like Game of Thrones plot than conduct of a political party".
4. The complainant said that the article represented an intrusion into his privacy which had resulted in security concerns and he also referenced the current security issues faced by MPs. The complainant said the information about his interest in the property had been republished from two 2016 articles in the Daily Record and another publication, but in contrast to the article under complaint, these articles did not comment on where he appeared to live. The complainant raised a number of specific security concerns during the course of the investigation of the complaint.
5. The publication denied any breach of the Code. It said that the information was already in the public domain by virtue of the 2016 articles and was therefore not private. It noted that the complainant had publicly announced that he was buying the property; when contacted prior to the publication of the 2016 article an SNP spokesperson had confirmed the purchase and his reasons for doing so.
6. The publication said that the complainant had publicly announced that he intended to use the property as a leisure facility for children with physical and learning disabilities, at a time he was facing a number of allegations of financial wrongdoing, of which he was subsequently cleared. The publication said this had prompted public debate at the time and there was a public interest in informing readers of the fact that the complainant and his partner's plan for the facility had never materialised and they appeared to live in the property; the article's publication contributed to an ongoing public debate.
Relevant Code Provisions
7. Clause 2 (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 intrusion into any individual’s private life without consent. In considering an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant’s own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without
their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable
expectation of privacy.
The Public Interest
1. The public interest includes, but is not confined to:
§ Detecting or exposing crime, or the threat of crime, or serious impropriety.
§ Protecting public health or safety.
§ Protecting the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.
§ Disclosing a person or organisation’s failure or likely failure to comply with any obligation to which they are subject.
§ Disclosing a miscarriage of justice.
§ Raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public.
§ Disclosing concealment, or likely concealment, of any of the above.
2. There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.
3. The regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will become so.
4. Editors invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they reasonably believed publication - or journalistic activity taken with a view to publication – would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest and explain how they reached that decision at the time.
Findings of the Committee
8. The Committee recognised the complainant's security concerns. However, an individual does not ordinarily have a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to information concerning the ownership of property or where the individual lives. In this case, it had been reported in 2016 that the complainant was considering buying the property, which had been confirmed by a spokesperson for the complainant's political party, and the complainant’s intended use of the property as a centre to help children with disabilities was also in the public domain. The article under complaint confirmed that the complainant had since purchased the property and "appeared" to be living in it. The Committee considered that the complainant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to this information; publication did not raise an exceptional security concern and the complainant’s interest in the property was already in the public domain. Further, there was a public interest in reporting that the complainant, an elected official, had publicly voiced his intention to use the property as a centre for children with physical and learning difficulties, but that those plans appeared not to have materialised. There was no breach of Clause 2.
9. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 29/05/2019
Date decision issued: 11/10/2019