Decision of the Complaints Committee 06470-19 Thompson v Sunday Life
Summary of Complaint
1. Patrick Thompson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Sunday Life breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “EXCLUSIVE HONEYMOON CASH PLEA FOR CHARITY FRAUDSTER”, published on 1 September 2019.
2. The article reported on a GoFundMe page set up by the complainant which the publication reported “ask[ed] the public to make financial donations to allow them to enjoy a honeymoon in 2020”. The article also reported that this was “shameless” as the complainant’s fiancée had just pleaded guilty to defrauding a charity she worked for.
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as they had not “asked the public” for donations. In fact, they had only asked those who were invited to their wedding. The complainant said that the GoFundMe site was private, and deliberately set up so it could not be searched for on external search engines or on the GoFundMe website. It was only available to the 96 people invited to the wedding via a password protected website.
4. The complainant said that the article breached his privacy under Clause 2 for the same reasons. He said that the GoFundMe site was only supposed to be available to friends and family who were invited to the wedding and not the public, therefore he had a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding this information. He also noted he was not involved in his fiancée’s court case.
5. The publication did not accept that the Code had been breached. It said that four Sunday Life employees, who were not invited to the wedding, had been able to access the GoFundMe page, and could also access a page requiring bank details to donate. Nothing in the page’s description said that only wedding guests should donate, and the page was described as a “fundraiser” rather than a wedding gift. The publication also said that a reporter had gone to the complainant’s fiancée’s house in order to get a comment and had left a note explaining that the story was to be published and inviting the complainant to make a comment, but had not heard from him. It said it had therefore taken care over the accuracy of the article. Despite not accepting a breach of Clause 1, the publication offered a clarification as a gesture of goodwill to be published on page seven, the same page as the original article:
In an article on September 1 we reported that a GoFundMe page had been set up to raise funds for a sunshine honeymoon for convicted charity fraudster [name] and her partner Patrick Thompson and the appeal was open to the public. Mr Thompson, who organised the fundraiser, has asked us to point out that he only intended the appeal to be viewed by the couple's wedding guests. He was not aware that if the GoFundMe campaign link was shared on social media it could be accessed by anyone who viewed the link. We are happy to set the record straight.
6. The publication similarly said that it had not breached Clause 2. It said that even if the website link had only been given to those invited to the wedding, it had been shared widely on social media and multiple sources, none of whom were wedding guests, had informed Sunday Life of the GoFundMe website. It said that GoFundMe made it clear that “private” campaigns can be seen by anyone with a link and that no password was required to access the fundraiser page.
Relevant Code Provisions
7. 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.
8. 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
9. The Committee considered that the publication had taken reasonable steps to avoid inaccuracy when reporting that the complainant had ‘asked the public’ for donations. It had been told about the GoFundMe website by multiple sources, and multiple members of staff had been able to access the website via the link. It had also sent a reporter to the complainant for comment, and had left a note in order to let the complainant put his position on record. Furthermore, there was nothing on the GoFundMe page itself which would suggest that it was only for guests of the wedding to donate to, so it could be legitimately interpreted as "asking the public" in circumstances where the link was being shared on social media. The Committee found that there was no failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information in breach of Clause 1(i).
10. Following publication, the newspaper was made aware that the fundraiser had been intended for wedding guests only. As the complainant had made his position clear, the Committee considered that it should be reported so that the coverage was not significantly misleading. The clarification offered by the publication identified the inaccuracy, provided clarifying information and was offered with due prominence. The clarification was sufficient under the terms of Clause 1(ii) and should now be published.
11. The Committee considered the nature of GoFundMe pages. GoFundMe makes it clear that anyone with the website link can access the page. Further, there was no information which indicated that the page was directed exclusively at wedding guests and the page had simply asked for donations towards the complainant's honeymoon. In these circumstances, the Committee did not consider that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy over the information which appeared on the page and there was no breach of Clause 2.
12. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
13. The publication should publish the proposed correction in order not to breach Clause 1(ii).
Date complaint received: 02/09/2019
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 21/02/2020
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