· Decision of the Complaints Committee 04512-15 A woman v The Times
Summary of complaint
1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times had breached Clause 3 (Privacy) and Clause 14 (Confidential sources) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Blind singer hurt on 7/7 flees stalker”, published on 8 July 2015.
2. The article was an interview with the complainant which was published the day after 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 story had initially been published in another newspaper; that article was the subject of a separate complaint to IPSO. The complainant said that, prior to publication of the initial article, 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 journalist replied saying that the story had been written and submitted to publications, and it included that the reason why the complainant had moved 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. 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. Following publication of the initial article, a journalist from The Times contacted the complainant to say that she had read the story with interest and would like to speak further about the complainant’s experiences. A telephone conversation took place, during which the complainant said that she had refused to speak about her being stalked, and had hoped that the journalist would understand that she did not want the information to be published. The journalist said that she would just use the information that had been published already. In her complaint to IPSO the complainant said that the journalist had never asked her if she would be happy with this, and if the journalist had asked her why she did not want to provide any further information she would have explained that the information was never meant to be published in the first place.
6. The newspaper said that during the telephone conversation the complainant had told the journalist that she had been advised by her lawyer not to discuss further her experiences of stalking. As a result, the journalist based the article on the information already published. It said that if the complainant had explained to the journalist that the initial article had appeared against her wishes and had caused her distress, then the newspaper would not have pursued the story any further; the intention of the article was to be entirely sympathetic to the complainant, and the newspaper never had any desire to upset her. It noted that the article had not made reference to the complainant’s current place of residence. It said that the facts published in the article were already in the public domain and, in any case, did not amount to private information under the terms of Clause 3.
7. 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
8. 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
9. The Committee understood that the complainant was in a vulnerable position, and that she was concerned for her safety.
10. The Committee had already established, separately, that the initial article in the other newspaper did not raise a breach of the Editors’ Code. That decision informed its consideration of the complaint against The Times.
11. The initial conversation had been clearly distinguished as an interview for publication, and the journalist was someone with whom she 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.
12. When The Times’ journalist had contacted the complainant seeking comment prior to publication, she had not been told that the complainant had been upset by publication of the initial article, that she considered the information to be private, or that she wanted nothing further to be published. Further, the article did not place any new information in the public domain. 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. In these circumstances, the newspaper following up on the previously published story did not represent an unjustified intrusion into the complainant’s private life; there was no breach of Clause 3.
13. 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.
14. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 16/07/2015Date decision issued: 08/09/2015 Back to ruling listing