Decision of the Complaints Committee 06418-19 A Woman v thesun.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that thesun.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “’I have no choice’ Single mum, 29, ‘forced to become phone SEX WORKER after Universal Credit cuts almost left her homeless” published on 12 August 2019.
2. The article was an interview with a named and pictured woman who had turned to sex work in order to pay her rent. She was reported as having said: “I don’t want to do it, it makes me feel sick. But I need to provide a better life for my five-year-old son”. The article explained that, following an operation and having spent time in hospital, the woman lost her job and then had to rely on Universal Credit payments, which she said were not enough and meant that she struggled to pay her rent. It reported the sums the woman received in government benefits and in payment for sex work.
3. The complainant, the woman who had given the interview, said that the article breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 1 (Accuracy). She said that the fact that she had a young son, the amount that she received in government benefits and from sex work, and the operation she had undergone was all information which she provided for background; she said that she had told the reporter on the phone that she did not want this information included in the article. The complainant said that she only provided the amount of money she received in Universal Credit, because she thought the reporter needed it for background. She also said that the reporter had promised to call her to let her know what would be published, but this did not happen. Finally, the complainant also said that it was inaccurate to say that her son was five years old; in fact he was four.
4. The publication did not accept that the article represented a breach of the Code. It said that it was not the case that the information had been published without the complainant’s consent. She had spoken freely to the reporter about her health, finances and family, and the complainant had not made a request, either in writing or over the phone, that this information not be included in the article. The information about the sums the complainant received in benefits had been provided by the Department of Work and Pensions, for the purposes of publication, and only after the complainant had provided her consent. Furthermore, it said that it was not credible that there had been such an agreement because details of what led to the complainant losing her job and her income were very important to the overall story. It also noted that the complainant had contacted the publication prior to making a complaint to IPSO, and had raised concerns only about the inclusion of the sums she received in Universal Credit, and that the article had misreported her son’s age, which the publication said indicated that there was no such agreement. The publication did not accept that it was a significant inaccuracy to report that the complainant’s son was five years old, rather than four years old. However, as a gesture of goodwill prior to the complainant contacting IPSO, it amended the article on this point and removed details of the sums which the complainant received in Universal Credit.
Relevant Code Provisions
5. 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. 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.
Findings of the Committee
6. A person ordinarily has a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of information concerning their medical treatment and personal income. In this case, during an interview with the reporter, the complainant had provided details of the medical procedure which she had undergone; the sums she received from Universal Credit and sex work; and the fact that she had a young son. The Committee noted that the publication disputed that an agreement had been reached that this information would not be included in the article. The Committee considered the screenshots of the messages exchanged between the complainant and the reporter, which did not indicate that the complainant had made a request that the information she had provided would not be included. Further, the information about the sums the complainant received in benefits had been provided by the DWP, with the complainant’s consent. In these circumstances, the Committee could not find that the publication of the information constituted an intrusion into the complainant’s private life without consent. There was no breach of Clause 2.
7. Reporting that the complainant’s son was five years old, rather than four years old, was not a significant inaccuracy in the context of an article which was focussed on the complainant’s experience of Universal Credit. A correction was not required under the terms of Clause 1(ii).
8. The complaint was not upheld
Date complaint received: 29/08/2019
Date complaint concluded: 31/01/2020