Decision of the Complaints Committee 05157-19 Bashagha v thesun.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Russol Bashagha complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that thesun.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 14 (Confidential Sources) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “GAMES MASTER Love Island’s Maura’s being USED by Marvin as he enjoyed a romantic holiday with stunning brunette just weeks before entering the villa”, published on 04 July 2019.
2. The article reported on events that had taken place on a reality TV series. It reported on the opinions of three ex-contestants who had said that one of the contestants was “playing a game”. The article stated that the contestant in question had “enjoyed a romantic break with [a] stunning brunette just weeks before entering the villa”. It contained two photos; the first of which depicted him and the complainant at a pool party. The complainant was shown standing behind the contestant wearing a swimming costume and a pair of glasses. She had a glass in her hand and was posing for the picture. The second picture was of the complainant at a restaurant and was captioned “Here’s the woman in question.” The complainant was not named in the article.
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) as she was not romantically involved with the contestant in question. She said that they were “good friends from back home” and that they had not travelled to Dubai together. She said she had travelled to Dubai for a business trip and the pair had met there, had attended a pool party and had gone out for dinner. She said that there was no basis for the newspaper to characterise their encounter as a “romantic holiday”; the newspaper had “fabricated a story”. She also said that the publication had used her image in an article that was “completely unrelated” to her.
4. The complainant also raised concerns that the newspaper had published a picture of her without her consent in breach of Clause 2 (Privacy). She accepted that the photos had been taken from the public Instagram account of the contestant, but said that publication of the images by the newspaper had caused her ‘distress’. She also expressed concern that she was pictured wearing a swimming costume; this had intruded into her private life. The complainant noted that the article had also appeared on Snapchat.
5. The complainant also expressed concern that the publication had intruded into grief and shock in breach of Clause 4 as reference to her in the article had left her feeling distressed. She also said that the article had breached Clause 14 (Confidential Sources).
6. The publication did not accept that it had breached Clause 1. It said that while it appreciated the complainant’s position that she and the contestant were both just friends, a break between them to a city popular with couples could be described as “romantic”.
7. The publication also denied that there had been a breach of Clause 2. It said that the photos had been provided by a news agency and that the complainant had not been named in the article. It also stated that all pictures of her were removed as soon as she asked for them to be taken down.
8. Notwithstanding its position, the publication offered to remove reference to a “romantic holiday” from the article as well as publishing a footnote at the bottom of the article that was to read:
“A previous version of this article said that (named man) had been on a ‘romantic holiday’ with an unnamed woman a few weeks before entering the Love Island villa. We have now been informed that (named man) and the woman were just friends and are happy to set the record straight”.
9. The publication rejected the complaints under both Clause 4 and Clause 14 as they did not believe that they were relevant to the complaint and so were not engaged.
Relevant Code Provisions
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.
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 intrusions 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.
Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief and shock)
In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. These provisions should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.
Clause 14 (Confidential Sources)
Journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information.
Findings of the Committee
10. It was not in dispute that the complainant had been pictured with a man “just weeks” before he appeared in a reality TV show, as reported in the article. However, based on the two photos, the newspaper had reported as fact that the two had been on a “romantic holiday”. The newspaper had not taken any further steps to establish the accuracy of this position. In these circumstances, the Committee was not satisfied that the publication had taken sufficient care not to publish inaccurate information; there was a breach of Clause 1(i) on this point. The article misrepresented the nature of the relationship between the complainant and the contestant, representing a significant inaccuracy requiring correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii).
11. The publication had offered to publish a correction and the Committee considered that the wording offered had identified the inaccuracy, set out the correct position and was offered promptly when the publication became aware of the complaint. This was sufficient to meet the terms of Clause 1(ii).
12. In relation to Clause 2, the Committee noted that the photo had been taken from the public page of a social media profile which had over 61,000 followers. It had been taken in a public place and the complainant was not engaged in any private activity. Therefore, the complainant had no reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the photograph and the publication was entitled to publish the image without the complainant’s consent. There was no breach of Clause 2.
13. The Committee noted that the complainant had raised complaints under Clause 4 and Clause 14. Clause 4 generally relates to the sensitivity of the approaches journalists make to, and the information they publish about individuals who have been bereaved or are in state of shock following a distressing event. As the complaint did not relate to this, there was no breach of Clause 4. Clause 14 relates to the moral obligation that journalists have to protect their confidential sources. The complaint did not relate to this and therefore there was no breach of Clause 14.
14. This complaint was upheld.
15. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required.
16. The publication had offered to publish a correction in a prominent position and sufficiently promptly as to meet the requirements of Clause 1(ii). This should now be published to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).
Date complaint received: 05/07/2019
Date decision issued: 04/12/2019
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