Decision of the Complaints Committee – 04681-19 Carden v Mail Online
Summary of complaint
1. Ben Carden complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article headlined "Glamping guru, 38, asks the High Court to jail his ex-girlfriend for breaching business agreements after they split up over her alleged affair with a neighbour" published on 10 June 2019.
2. The article reported that the complainant had “urged the High Court to jail his former girlfriend" after she allegedly had an affair. It reported that he had said that his ex-girlfriend, also his former business partner, should be committed to prison for contempt of court for allegedly breaching a court order which required her to deliver up certain information.
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate; he said that the application he had made against his former partner for being in contempt of court did not ask the court to commit her to jail. He said that he had made the application in order to access the business bank accounts and online accounts of the business which they had run together and that it was for the court to decide the appropriate remedy. The complainant denied having made the comment: "He now says his ex should be committed to prison for contempt of court in relation to breaches of a judge's order requiring her to deliver up all the information required for him to run the club's online accounts".
4. The complainant also said that the article represented an intrusion into his private life as it referenced the allegation of his partner's affair; he considered this to be a private matter and that there was no public interest in it being published as he was not a public figure. The complainant accepted that his former partner's legal representative had claimed that he was acting vindictively following the alleged affair, but he maintained that publishing this information was intrusive.
5. The complainant said that publication of the article constituted harassment, as the publication had not provided him with an opportunity to comment on the allegations and because he said that the article was not balanced.
6. The complainant also said that the article discriminated against him in breach of Clause 12. He said that the article was biased in favour of his former partner as she was female; it aimed to portray her as the victim of a vindictive application and discriminated against him on the grounds that he was male and portrayed him as "a stereotypical abuser". The complainant also said that the article featured a reader's comment below the article that he considered to be a discriminatory reference to a condition from which he suffers: "Probably blames her because she so effortlessly handled the online business while he struggles daily with simple tasks".
7. The publication denied any breach of the Code. It provided a copy of a sealed court order which recited that the application which had been made by the complainant was “for committal in respect of certain allegations of contempt of court”. It said that the complainant was "asking the court to commit [ex-partners name] to jail for contempt, as defined by Practice Direction RSC 52 and CCR 29, 1.1:", and that this was an "application for an order for committal of a person to prison for contempt of court (a ‘committal application’)". In such circumstances, the publication said that it was not inaccurate to report that the complainant had "asked" for his ex-partner to be sent to jail. The publication said that the article had not included a direct quote from the complainant, but had paraphrased the nature of the application he had made to make it more accessible to readers; the publication said that the article summarised the details of the application accurately.
8. The publication said that the details of the alleged affair were heard in court and were accurately reported; it was entitled to publish this information. It highlighted that the matter was relevant to the case, as the representative for the complainant's former partner alleged that this formed part of the complainant's motivation for making the application to the court.
9. The publication denied that the article or the comment which had been posted breached the terms of Clause 12. The publication said that it was not aware of the complainant’s condition until he made his complaint to IPSO; the article did not suggest he had a disability of any kind, that he was unwell, or otherwise impeded in carrying out daily tasks; he was presented as the equal of his business partner. Further, the publication contended that it could not be inferred, on an ordinary reading of the reader's comment, that this represented a pejorative or prejudicial reference to a disability of any kind. The publication accepted that the comment had been moderated, but did not accept that it engaged Clause 12.
Relevant Code Provisions
10. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.
iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
11. 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.
12. Clause 3 (Harassment)*
i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.
ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.
iii) Editors must ensure these principles are
observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant
material from other sources.
13. Clause 12 (Discrimination)
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
Findings of the Committee
14. The publication provided a copy of a sealed court order which demonstrated that the complainant had made an application for committal in respect of allegations that his former partner was in contempt of court and that the court had ordered that "The application for permission to commit to prison for contempt is adjourned". In these circumstances, it was not inaccurate or misleading to report that the complainant had asked or urged the court to send his former partner to jail. The "quote" the complainant claimed had been inaccurately attributed to him was not presented as a direct quotation, and it had not inaccurately summarised the nature of his application. There was no breach of Clause 1.
15. The complainant did not dispute that details of the alleged affair had been made public in open court. In line with the principle of open justice, the publication was entitled to report on the alleged affair, which was relevant to the case, and the complainant had no reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to this information in the circumstances. There was no breach of Clause 2.
16. Neither the article nor the comment which was published made any reference to the complainant's condition or any form of disability. The Committee acknowledged that the complainant found the comment that he "struggled with daily tasks" offensive, however the Committee did not find that it represented a pejorative reference to the complainant’s condition. The complainant raised concerns that the article was biased and therefore that it discriminated against him on account of his gender. The Editors’ Code does not require publications to avoid bias. In circumstances where the article did not feature any prejudicial or pejorative references to the complainant on account of his gender, there was no breach of Clause 12.
17. Clause 3 provides that journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit by the press, unless a public interest can be demonstrated, and principally relates to the contact journalists have with members of the public. The complainant's complaint that he was not contacted prior to publication and that the court case had not been reported impartially did not engage the terms of Clause 3.
18. The complaint was not upheld
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 11/06/2019
Date decision issued: 24/09/2019