Decision of the Complaints Committee 06020-19 Wilkins v The Daily Telegraph
Summary of Complaint
1. Richard Wilkins complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “When a chef doesn’t like the taste of criticism” published on 11 July 2019.
2. The article reported on the alleged actions of the complainant following a recent review of his restaurant by the publication. The article under complaint reported that following the publication of the review, the owner of the restaurant contacted the author of the review to complain about what he had written. The article claimed that this owner had engaged in “constant texts and calls” with the author, and left numerous voicemails. The article reported that the author had found this contact threatening and intimidating. He gave examples of this, quoting voicemails left by the owner as saying “I’m going to be waiting for you. I’m going to come and find you” and “Things are going to get really dirty. I mean it, I seriously mean it”. It also quoted a text sent by the owner to the author which said “You won’t be able to avoid me for long” and another which said “Get used to having me in the back of your mind wherever you go.”
3. The article appeared in substantially the same format online under the headline “When chefs bite back: As soon as my restaurant review appeared, the threats started…”.
4. The complainant, the owner of the restaurant and the person named as allegedly having contacted the author of the review, said that the article contained a number of inaccuracies. He disputed that any of the voicemails were threatening in nature or mentioned violence, and said that the article had inaccurately reported the timeline of calls and voicemails. He said that the contact referred to in the article had taken place after the author had agreed to call him back to discuss his concerns, but had then left a voicemail calling him unprofessional and refusing to engage with him further. He said omitting this from the article was misleading. He disputed that he had made numerous calls to the author in the first instance and this was only done once he had received the above voicemail. He said that the quote “things are going to get really dirty” referred to any potential legal action he might take and the reference to him coming to find the author was simply so that the author could explain his review. The complainant also said that the conduct of the author breached Clause 3 (Harassment), as there were two articles written about him and his business in quick succession, and he considered that this was motivated by an opposition to his business.
5. The publication did not accept that there was any breach of the Code. The publication stated that on 29 June 2019 the complainant and author had an initial conversation where the author said he would call the complainant back, the complainant then called twice more in the early hours of the morning of 30 June 2019. It provided a screenshot of the call log to support this claim. The publication confirmed that the author had then called the complainant back that same morning and did call him ‘unprofessional’ and the author then asked the complainant not to contact him again. The publication stated that, following this exchange, the complainant then made several phone calls which were not answered by the author, again it provided a screenshot of the call log in support of its claim. It then stated that voicemails were left on the author’s phone after the calls went unanswered. It said that the first voicemail left on 30 June 2019 stated that things were going to get “really, really dirty”, the next was left on 1st July 2019 where the complainant had stated that the author “needed to get back in touch with me because it’s only going to get worse”. The publication also said that further voicemails were left including one on 2nd July where the complaint stated that he would call the author every day if he didn’t get back to him, along with a further voicemail left on 3rd July 2019 where the complainant said “pop round to my restaurant…if you’re man enough.” The publication provided recordings of these voicemails as part of the investigation, as well as providing a screenshot of text where the complainant stated that he “could pop up to question” the author at any time. The publication therefore rejected that there had been a breach of Clause 1 as it stated that the article had accurately reported events. The publication did not accept that the terms of Clause 3 were engaged; there was no personal harassment or intimidation of the complainant by the author.
Relevant Code Provisions
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 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.
Findings of the Committee
6. The article had accurately reported the details of the contact between the author and complainant, as demonstrated by the recordings and screenshots provided by the publication to IPSO. The Committee acknowledged that the complainant did not agree with the newspaper’s characterisation of him as ‘threatening’. However the basis for characterising him as such was made clear in the article - the frequency and nature of the complainant’s communication. In these circumstances the newspaper had taken care over its characterisation of the complainant as “threatening”. The newspaper was entitled to characterise the complainant’s behaviour in this way, and doing so did not give rise to a significantly inaccurate or misleading impression of the complainant’s actions. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
7. Further, having reviewed the contact exchanged between the two individuals, the Committee did not accept that omitting the details of the author’s phone call with the complainant gave a misleading overall impression of the complainant’s actions. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
8. The terms of Clause 3 generally relates to the conduct of journalists during the newsgathering process and is designed to protect individuals from unwanted or repeated approaches by the press. In addition, publications have the freedom to select which subjects to cover and articles to publish; the fact that the article under complaint was the second article the newspaper had published about the complainant and his business did not constitute harassment in breach of Clause 3.
9. The complaint was not upheld
Date complaint received: 29/07/2019
Date decision issued: 16/10/2019