Decision of the Complaints Committee – 05998-19 McGurk v am-online
Summary of Complaint
1. John McGurk complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that am-online.com breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article headlined "McGurk Performance Cars MD John McGurk jailed for two months" published on 22 July 2019.
2. The article, which was published online only, reported that the complainant had been jailed for two months, following a crown court trial, after being found guilty of doing acts tending to pervert the course of public justice. The article explained that another newspaper had reported that the complainant had "pursued a course of conduct which amounted to perverting the course of public justice by nominating somebody else as the driver”. The article explained further that the other newspaper had reported that the complainant had been found not guilty of a charge of dangerous driving having been accused of driving at up to 80mph in rural roads “before overtaking in a line of cars…”. The article went on to report that prosecutors had said that the complainant had “lied to police by falsely claiming that somebody else had been behind the wheel at the time of the incident". The article also included information about the complainant’s business interests. The article included a link to the article of the other newspaper.
3. The complainant was primarily concerned that the article had made his court case about his business, which was unrelated to the charges he had faced personally. The complainant also said that the article was inaccurate and that it repeated inaccurate material which had been reported in the other newspaper. The complainant said that he was not accused by the prosecution of speeding, but for overtaking on double white lines and said that he did not overtake a line of cars. The complainant also disputed the article's claim that his conviction for perverting the course of justice related to him nominating somebody else as the driver.
4. The complainant said that the publication of information about his company in the article represented an intrusion into his privacy in breach of Clause 2. The complainant also said that the inaccurate reporting represented a breach of Clause 9.
5. The publication denied that there were any misleading or inaccurate statements in the article. It said the report was based on the article published by the other newspaper and was clearly presented as information which had been reported by that newspaper. It said it had taken care to clearly point out to readers that the information was "reported by" the other newspaper and the article clearly identified what were allegations and what had been said by the prosecution; any inaccuracies in the prosecution's case was a matter between the court and the complainant.
6. The publication denied that the article was inaccurate by virtue of including information about the complainant's business. It said that the information originated from a feature and interview it conducted with the complainant in 2018; the complainant had not disputed the accuracy of the information reported at the time and the article under complaint included the same information.
7. The publication denied that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy with regards to the information regarding his business; it was already in the public domain and, given its nature, its publication could not represent a breach of Clause 2.
8. The publication emphasised that the article did not refer to any relatives or friends linked to the complainant, or mention any vulnerable individuals. Therefore the terms of Clause 9 were not engaged.
Relevant Code Provisions
9. 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.
v) A publication must report fairly and accurately the outcome of an action for defamation to which it has been a party, unless an agreed settlement states otherwise, or an agreed statement is published.
10. 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 intrusion 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.
11. Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime)*
i) Relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story.
ii) Particular regard should be paid to the potentially vulnerable position of children who witness, or are victims of, crime. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.
Findings of the Committee
12. The complainant did not dispute the accuracy of the report that, following his trial, he had been convicted of perverting the course of justice for which he had received a two month jail sentence. The article made clear that the information concerning the nature of the charges which he had faced and the prosecution’s case had been reported by the other newspaper and provided a link to that newspaper’s report. The publication had, therefore, taken care over the presentation of the information as it clearly signalled that the information had originated in a report which had been published by another newspaper. Where the source of the information had been made clear, and the information was not presented as fact, the article was not significantly misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1.
13. Including information about the complainant's business, in an article which otherwise focussed on events which affected him as an individual, did not make the article inaccurate or misleading. The selection of material is a matter of editorial discretion and editors can choose what they publish as long as the Code is not otherwise breached. There was no breach of Clause 1.
14. In most circumstances, individuals do not have an expectation of privacy regarding information relating to their business interests. In this case, the complainant’s role as the Managing Director of a performance car business was not information about which the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy. Further, the information regarding the complainant's business was already in the public domain by virtue of him previously giving an interview to the publication. There was no breach of Clause 2.
15. The purpose of Clause 9 is to provide protection to family and friends of individuals convicted or accused of crime. As no family members or friends of the complainant were identified in the article, the terms of Clause 9 were not engaged.
16. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date received: 12/08/2019
Date concluded by IPSO: 03/04/2020
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