· Decision of the Complaints Committee 05748-15 Talavera v Liverpool Echo
Summary of complaint
1. Max Talavera complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Liverpool Echo had breached Clause 3 (Privacy) and Clause 4 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Wayne Rooney breaks England record: What happened to fellow mascot from 1996 Merseyside derby?”, published on 9 September 2015, and an article headlined “Revealed: The other mascot with Wayne Rooney at 1996 Merseyside derby”, published on 10 September 2015.
2. The complainant had been a football mascot with Wayne Rooney at the Merseyside derby in 1996, and had been photographed appearing alongside him and some of the players. In the first article, the newspaper published the photograph and initiated a search to find out the complainant’s identity and what had happened to him. It shared the article, which asked readers to provide information about the complainant, on social media. In the second article, the newspaper reported that a programme collector had provided the match programme, which named the mascot. It reported the complainant’s name and said he was “believed to be from the Isle of Man”.
3. The complainant said he had been aware of the first article, but he had chosen to ignore it. He said he then received two telephone calls from a number, which he identified as being that of the newspaper, on his ex-directory telephone number. He ignored the telephone calls, but after 24 hours, he contacted the newspaper to ask it to stop contacting him and to request that no information about him should be released. He provided the email he had sent, which said “I am writing to inform you that if you contact me once more and/or release information about me, I will take every legal action that is available to me.”
4. Twenty minutes later, the complainant received a reply from the newspaper, explaining that it was going to run a story about his appearing as a mascot with Wayne Rooney in 1996. It told him that a programme collector had provided his name, and it was contacting him in the hope that he would share his memories of the football match for what would be a “lovely story”. It said that if he did not wish to contribute to the story, he should let it know and then no one would contact him again.
5. The complainant responded to the newspaper, thanking it for its swift response and reiterating that he did not wish to provide any information or to have his identity revealed. He then sent a further email asking how the newspaper had obtained his telephone number. In response, the newspaper said that it respected his decision not to contribute and confirmed that it would take steps to ensure that its reporters did not contact him again. It informed him that the follow-up article would include a photograph of the programme, which gave his name, and that the story would also make reference to his identity. It said it was unaware of who had provided his telephone number.
6. The complainant expressed concern that the second piece had named him and reported the region in which he lived. He said the articles had been shared more than 1,500 times on social media; members of the public had contacted his family asking for information; and due to the number of messages he had received, he had closed his social media accounts. He said there was no public interest in the stories, and no consideration had been given to the impact that they and the newspaper’s “witch hunt” would have on him and his family. He considered that as the newspaper had to launch a campaign in order to find him, the information was clearly private and not already publicly available.
7. The newspaper said it was not its intention to upset the complainant, but to run a positive piece on the mascots at the 1996 Merseyside derby. The second article was based on information given in the publicly-available match programme.
8. The newspaper said the journalist had made two calls to the complainant, both of which had not been answered. It considered that before its first email to the complainant, he would not necessarily have known the subject of the story, so it told him and asked if he wanted to contribute. It did not consider that any of its contacts had constituted harassment. It confirmed that his telephone number had been supplied by a member of the public, but it would not identify the source because of its obligations under Clause 14 (Confidential sources).
Relevant Code Provisions
9. 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.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent. Note - Private places are public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Clause 4 (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 their 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.
Clause 14 (Confidential sources)
Journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information.
Findings of the Committee
10. The fact the complainant had appeared as a mascot with Wayne Rooney at the Merseyside derby in 1996 was not private information. He had appeared in a publicity photograph taken with some of the players in public at the match, and his name had appeared in the publicly-available match programme. The newspaper had been entitled to publish the initial piece, which sought to establish his identity. The publication of his name and the region in which he lived in the follow-up piece did not represent a breach of Clause 3. The complaint under Clause 3 was not upheld.
11. Following the newspaper’s two attempts to contact him by telephone, the complainant had sent an email asking it to desist from making further contact. However, it was unclear from this email that the complainant already knew that the newspaper had sought his comment on his appearance as a football mascot. The newspaper had therefore considered it necessary to inform him about the story it planned to publish, and had asked him if he wished to comment on it, but it had also made clear that it would ensure that no further attempts to contact him would be made, if requested. Following receipt of his confirmation on this point, no further contact had been made.
12. The Committee did not consider that the newspaper’s two telephone calls to the complainant, which had not been answered, or its courteous responses to his emails had constituted harassment in breach of Clause 4.
13. While understanding the complainant’s concern that members of the public had also attempted to make contact with him, this did not represent harassment under the terms of Clause 4. The complaint under Clause 4 was not upheld.
14. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 15/09/2015Date decision issued: 01/11/2015 Back to ruling listing