Decision of the Complaints Committee 05158-19 Bashagha v Mail Online
Summary of Complaint
1. Russol Bashagha complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online 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 “Love Island: Fans praise Maura for being 'the friend everyone needs' after her 'brutal honesty' amid Amy's romance drama... as it's claimed she is being USED by hunk Marvin”, published on 04 July 2019.
2. The article reported on events that had taken place on a reality TV series. It reported on an exchange between contestants and made reference to the fact that one of those involved may be “set for heartbreak” due to another contestant's activities prior to being on the television show. It stated it had been reported by another publication that the contestant in question had “enjoyed a romantic break with a mystery brunette just days before entering the villa”. It contained a photo with the caption “Shocking: Snaps have emerged of (named contestant) enjoying a sunny break to Dubai with a mystery brunette just weeks before he entered the villa.” The photo showed the complainant and contestant at a pool party where the complainant was stood behind the contestant wearing a swimming costume and a pair of glasses. She had a drinks glass in her hand and was posing for the picture with the contestant.
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 stated 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 then met whilst they were there and attended a pool party and gone out for dinner. She stated that this was the basis for the newspaper characterising their encounter as a ‘romantic holiday’ and this was “completely incorrect and fabricated”. 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 publication 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 man but said that publication of the image had caused her distress’. She also expressed concern that she was pictured wearing a swimming costume and this had intruded into her private life.
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 the article made clear that it was reporting on the claims made by another publication which referred to a “romantic holiday”. A link to this article was provided. It also said that it had described the complainant as a mystery brunette “enjoying a sunny break in Dubai” as this was what the photo showed. This was therefore an accurate description of the photo.
7. The publication also denied that there had been a breach of Clause 2. It said that the photo had pictured the complainant in an “open public area” and was taken from a publicly available social media profile with over 61,000 followers. Therefore, the complainant could have had no reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the photograph. It also stated that the photo did not show the complainant engaged in any “private or sensitive” activity. Furthermore, they pointed to further photos which had been posted within the other publication and on the social media account of the complainant out for dinner in support of their position.
8. Notwithstanding its position, the publication offered to remove the photograph from the article as well as publishing a footnote at the bottom of the article that was to read: “Since publishing the mystery brunette has confirmed that there was no romantic involvement between herself and (named man).”
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. The additional claim that the pair had enjoyed a “romantic break” was clearly presented as a claim, made by another publication; it was not adopted as fact. In these circumstances the Committee was satisfied that the publication had taken care over the presentation of the claim and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. Nevertheless, the Committee welcomed the publications offer to put the complainant’s position on record.
11. In relation to Clause 2, the Committee noted that the photo had been taken from the public page of a social media profile belonging to the other party 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 without the complainant’s consent. There was no breach of Clause 2.
12. 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 on this point. 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.
13. This complaint was not upheld.
Date complaint received: 18/07/2019
Date decision issued: 04/12/2019Back to ruling listing