Decision of the Complaints
Committee 05965-17 Latif v The Sunday Times
Summary of complaint
1. Farasat Latif complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sunday Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Masood served as link man for radical mosque”, published on 9 April 2017.
2. The article reported that Khalid Masood, the person responsible for the terrorist attack at Westminster on 22 March 2017, had links to the Luton Islamic Centre mosque. It said that his name and phone number had been found on stickers attached to leaflets on display at the mosque, and that while the mosque had insisted that it condemned terrorism, the material it published was “extreme”. The article reported that the complainant was a director at an English-language school where Mr Masood had taught, and that he was also the secretary of the mosque. It said that the complainant had “refused to comment on the leaflets or Masood last week, telling a reporter to ‘piss off’”.
3. The complainant said that on the evening of 31 March 2017, a journalist representing the newspaper had harassed him at his home, in front of his two children and their tutor, causing him and them great distress.
4. The complainant provided the following account of the exchange. He said that he had answered the door to the journalist, and the journalist had introduced himself and had asked a question. The complainant had said “I’m not talking to you” and had tried to shut the door, but the journalist had pushed the door back to prevent him from closing it. The complainant had said “excuse me” in an angry tone, and had again tried to close the door. When the reporter pushed the door back into his face a second time, the complainant had said “look, piss off”, and had pushed the door hard to close it. The journalist had then left.
5. The complainant said that he was always polite to journalists, but in this instance, the reporter’s behaviour had been unacceptable so he had sworn at him. He said that the newspaper’s report of the incident was misleading: he had not told the reporter to “piss off” in response to his questioning; he had said this in response to the reporter’s intrusive conduct.
6. The newspaper denied that the conduct of its reporter had represented harassment or an intrusion into the complainant’s private life.
7. The newspaper said that the encounter had lasted around 20 seconds. It said that the complainant had answered the door, and the reporter had introduced himself and the newspaper, but before he could say anything further, the complainant had told him to “piss off” and had shut the door abruptly. The reporter had not held the door, which closed from the inside; he had put his hand up instinctively to protect himself as it was shut in his face. The reporter had then dropped a note with the allegations he had wanted to put to the complainant through the door, and he had left.
8. The reporter had recorded the encounter; the newspaper provided the recording and the following transcript:
3.21: Sound of door opening
Reporter: Hi, Mr Latif?
Reporter: XXXXXXXX, from the Sunday Times.
FL: I really don't want to talk to you.
Reporter: I'm really sorry - I've got -
FL: Can you not, can you not hold the door please.
(Simultaneously): Reporter: Apologies. I need - all right - FL: Piss off.
3.33: Sound of door closing.
9. The newspaper said that the reporter’s visit to the complainant’s home, and his decision to leave a note, were justified in the public interest. The complainant was the secretary of the Luton Islamic Centre mosque, and the reporter had found evidence connecting the mosque to the terrorist who had carried out the Westminster attacks only days earlier. It was entirely in the public interest for the reporter to have tried to obtain his comment on this evidence, which had connected the mosque to an extremely serious incident of high national importance.
Relevant Code provisions
10. 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. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information.
Clause 3 (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 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.
The public interest
There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.
1. The public interest includes, but is not confined to:
· Detecting or exposing crime, or the threat of crime, or serious impropriety.
· Protecting public health or safety.
· Protecting the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.
· Disclosing a person or organisation’s failure or likely failure to comply with any obligation to which they are subject.
· Disclosing a miscarriage of justice.
· Raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public.
· Disclosing concealment, or likely concealment, of any of the above.
2. There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.
3. The regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will become so.
4. Editors invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they reasonably believed publication - or journalistic activity taken with a view to publication – would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest and explain how they reached that decision at the time.
5. An exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16.
Findings of the Committee
11. The Committee had regard for the audio recording of the encounter between the complainant and the reporter, which had lasted 14 seconds. Although the encounter was brief, this did not mean that the reporter’s conduct could not constitute harassment in breach of Clause 3.
12. The Committee noted the complainant’s particular concern that the reporter had deliberately held the door to prevent it from being closed. It also acknowledged the reporter’s position that he had held up his hand instinctively to protect himself as the door was closed in his face. Nevertheless, the recording of the incident indicated that the reporter could only have held the door momentarily; he had promptly removed his hand when asked to do so; he had apologised; and his tone of voice had remained calm throughout. The Committee did not consider that this exchange had amounted to harassment in breach of Clause 3.
13. Following the conversation, the reporter had left a note for the complainant, and he had made no further approaches. The reporter had not failed to respect a request to desist in breach of Clause 3.
14. The Committee acknowledged that the complainant and his family had found the reporter’s visit to their home intrusive. However, reporters are entitled to approach individuals for comment at their homes as long as they do so in accordance with the requirements of the Code; indeed making such approaches is a routine part of the newsgathering process. In this case, the approach was made in order to obtain the complainant’s comment on the serious allegation that Mr Massood had connections with the Luton Islamic Centre mosque. The approach was not intrusive in breach of Clause 2, and there was no suggestion that anything private about the complainant had been published. The complaint under Clause 2 was not upheld.
15. It was accepted that during the
exchange, the complainant had refused to comment and had told the reporter to
“piss off”. The article had not given a significantly misleading impression of
the encounter. There was no breach of Clause 1.
16. The complaint was not upheld.
complaint received: 13/11/2017
Date decision issued: 05/02/2018Back to ruling listing