Decision of the Complaints Committee 05942-19 HRH The Duke of Sussex V The Mail on Sunday
Summary of Complaint
1. HRH The Duke of Sussex complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Mail on Sunday breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article headlined "Drugged and tethered... what Harry didn’t tell you about those awe-inspiring wildlife photos" published on 28 April 2019.
2. The article reported on "spectacular photographs of African wildlife" which had been posted on he complainant's Instagram account to highlight Earth Day. The article claimed that the “pictures… don’t quite tell the full story” and commented that the complainant “notably avoided explaining the circumstances in which the images were taken”, namely that all three of the animals had been tranquilised and that the elephant had also been tethered as they were being relocated as part of conservation projects. It reported that followers of the complainant’s Instagram account were unable to see a rope around the hind legs of the elephant because of the way the picture was edited. The article reported that a spokesperson for the complainant had declined to discuss the photos, though "sources denied the rope was deliberately edited out of the elephant picture, claiming instead that 'it was due to Instagram's format'".
3. The article also appeared in much the same format online under the headline "Drugged and tethered... what Prince Harry didn’t tell you about those awe-inspiring wildlife photos in Malawi", published on 27 April 2019.
4. The complainant said the article was inaccurate as it reported that, by not making clear that the animals had been drugged and tethered, he had intentionally misled the public to give the impression that he was a superior wildlife photographer who had captured the images in dangerous circumstances. He said that the images had been uploaded to his Instagram account in support of Earth Day to raise awareness, rather than as evidence of the complainant's talent as a photographer, and the caption made clear that the animals were being relocated as part of conservation efforts. The complainant said that, in those circumstances, it was not necessary for the captions to explicitly state that the animals had been sedated or tethered as this would be understood by readers.
5. The complainant said that he had not misled the public by failing to explain the circumstances in which the photograph of the elephant had been taken and that the article was inaccurate in claiming that he had sought to mislead the public by deliberately publishing an edited version of the photograph. He said that the full uncropped photograph had been published on the Royal Family website in 2016 and has been publicly available ever since. The complainant said that the image was also published on the website of the organisation which organised the conservation work, which featured a description and a video of the tranquilising and tethering process; the complainant’s Instagram account contained a link to the organisation's website. The complainant emphasised that he had also publicly spoken about this conservation work in 2016.
6. The complainant said that the article gave the misleading impression that he had cropped out the tether to create the false impression that he was a superior wildlife photographer. He said that the image had been cropped owing to the formatting requirements of Instagram. The complainant explained that his Instagram was subject to bespoke settings such that the photographs which he posts have a border around them and the photograph of the elephant had to be cropped in the way it had to fit this template; the only alternative would have been to edit out the elephant handler. He also said that the image was published as part of an album and that the format of the first image dictates the format of the subsequent images; because the first image in the series adopted a square format, the image of the elephant could not be posted in landscape format. The complainant said that he had made the newspaper aware of this prior to publication.
7. The complainant also said that a representative had made the publication aware of his conservation work and the tranquilising and tethering process prior to publication.
8. The publication denied that the article was inaccurate. It said that the complainant had posted the cropped version of the image on his Instagram account to his 5.6 million followers but did not explain the circumstances, namely that the animals had been tranquilised and tethered, despite him having the opportunity to do so. The publication said that the complainant's followers could not be expected to have been aware of the explanation provided by the complainant three years ago at the time of the publication of the photographs in 2016 or of the content of an entirely separate website; it was not misleading to report that the complainant had not told his 5.6 million Instagram followers about the circumstances in which the photographs had been taken or the "whole story". The publication noted that Instagram users who had commented on the image of the elephant said that the complainant should have made the circumstances clear.
9. The publication disputed that the complainant had to crop the image due to Instagram's formatting requirements. It said that the complainant's preference to have a border around his photos was a presentational choice and not a formatting requirement; to suggest otherwise was disingenuous. The publication provided a screenshot of the image uploaded to Instagram in its full format to demonstrate that it was not necessary to crop the image. In any event, the publication said that the article had included the complainant's explanation for cropping the image.
10. The publication questioned the relevance of the complainant's reliance on the fact that the publication had been made aware of the conservation work and the tranquilising and tethering process prior to publication; these matters had been clearly set out in the article. However, the focus of the story had been the Instagram posts.
Relevant Code Provisions
11. 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.
Findings of the Committee
12. The Committee considered that it was not clear from the images themselves that the animals had been tranquilised and tethered. The photograph of the elephant had been cropped to edit out the animal's tethered leg; the publication had demonstrated that the photograph could have been edited differently and the complainant accepted that the album could have been uploaded in a different format which would have made editing the photograph unnecessary. The accompanying caption did not make the position clear or that the images had previously been published, unedited, in 2016. The position was not made clear simply as a result of the inclusion of the link to the website. In these circumstances, the Committee did not consider that it was significantly misleading to report that the photographs posted on the complainant’s Instagram account did not quite tell the full story and that the complainant had not explained the circumstances in which the photographs had been taken. There was no breach of Clause 1.
13. Where the article focused on the complainant's publicly available Instagram posts and the information they displayed, the Committee did not consider that it was necessary for the newspaper to contact the complainant for comment on the published claims. Nevertheless, the publication had included the complainant's denial that he had deliberately edited out the tether on the image of the elephant. There was no failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information.
14. The complaint was not upheld
Date complaint received: 08/08/2019
Date decision issued: 25/10/2019
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