Decision of the Complaints Committee – 05679-18 Gos v Daily Express
Summary of complaint
1. Anna Gos complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Express breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article headlined “‘I didn’t recognise girl after hammer attack’”, published on 21 August 2018.
2. The article reported that a woman with the same name as the complainant had been subject to a hammer attack in which she was badly injured. The woman was described as a “City worker” who was “repeatedly bludgeoned near her home” in south-east London. The article went on to give more details of the crime, including quotations from witnesses and the woman’s employer. The photograph accompanying the article was of the complainant.
3. The article appeared online in substantially the same format, under the same headline, on the same day. This article included a number of photographs, including one of the complainant.
4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate, in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy), because it included an image of her, rather than the woman who was the victim of the attack. She said that this image had been taken from her social media profile, and that no attempt had been made to contact her to check if she was the victim of the crime. She said that the publication of the photograph had caused distress to her family and friends, and disruption to her personal and professional life. She also expressed concern that the publication had not checked the authenticity of the image prior to publication.
5. The publication accepted that the photograph had been included in error, and, on receiving the complaint from IPSO, apologised for the distress caused. It said that two agencies had provided it with the same photograph, and it had relied on those agencies to check that they related to the correct person. It removed the photograph from the article, and offered to publish an apology and correction in print and online.
6. The complainant declined the offer of a public correction and apology. She said that she didn’t want anything further to be published about the case, even if it was intended to correct the inaccuracy.
Relevant Code Provisions
7. 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.
Findings of the Committee
8. A photograph of the complainant had been included, prominently and in error, identifying her as the victim of a serious crime. The publication had obtained this photograph from two agencies, and there had clearly been a failure on the part of these agencies to take care over the accuracy of the information they provided. The Preamble to the Code makes clear that publications are ultimately responsible for any breaches of the Code that might result from the use of external contributors. Consequently, there was a breach of Clause 1(i) on the part of the publication.
9. When contacted by IPSO, the publication had offered to issue an apology and correction in print and online. However, the complainant had declined such an offer. As the offer had been made promptly on receipt of the complaint from IPSO, there was no further breach of Clause 1(ii) on this point. Nevertheless, the Committee considered that a correction was required to make clear that the photograph used had been of the wrong person.
10. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i).
Remedial action required
11. A correction was required to address the use of the inaccurate image within the print and online articles. The publication had offered to publish such a correction sufficiently promptly, but the complainant had declined this offer. Nevertheless, the Committee considered that there was a significant public interest in recording that an inaccurate image had been published, and that a correction was therefore required. It did not consider that such a correction would reveal any private or insensitive information about the complainant, or the victim of the attack, as it would not result in the republication of the image which was the subject of the complaint. The publication subsequently offered the following wording for a correction, which was sufficient to address the inaccuracy within the article:
Correction - Anna Gos
We published an article headlined “‘I didn’t recognise girl after hammer attack’” on 21 August 2018, which included a photograph which we said was of Anna Gos, the victim of the attack. In fact, this photograph was of a different person with the same name, and was included in error. We apologise for any distress that may have been caused by this error.
12. The article had originally appeared on page 11, and the incorrect photograph had been prominent within the article; the online article had since been removed. The publication offered to publish the above correction in its standard corrections and clarifications column, and as a standalone correction online. This offer was sufficiently prominent to meet the publication’s obligations under Clause 1(ii), and should now be published.
Date complaint received: 21/08/2018
Date decision issued: 27/12/2018
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