Decision of the Complaints Committee 06605-18 McPartlin and Corbett v Woman
Summary of complaint
1. Ant McPartlin and Anne-Marie Corbett complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Woman breached Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined, “Ant set to be a dad?” published on 8 October 2018.
2. The article was
trailed on the front page and was accompanied by 2 photographs of the
complainants. The article continued inside, and reported on social media
speculation that Ms Corbett may be pregnant. It included photographs of the
complainants, and reported comments made by members of the public on social
media, including “she looks pregnant”.
3. The article also appeared online with the headline, “Is Ant McPartlin expecting a baby with new girlfriend Anne-Marie Corbett?” published on 6 October 2018. The online article did not include the photographs that were published in print. It was otherwise substantially the same as the print article.
4. The complainants
said that the article breached Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code. They
were particularly concerned that the article had been published in the context
of recent, extensive media coverage relating to various aspects of Mr
McPartlin’s private life. They said that Ms Corbett was not a public figure,
and that the nature of the speculation in the article was particularly
upsetting for the complainants. They said that whether or not someone was
pregnant was a deeply personal and private matter. They said that reporting on
a possible early pregnancy was particularly intrusive, due to the medically
accepted heightened risk of miscarriage.
5. The complainants
accepted that there had been some speculation about the possible pregnancy on
social media. However, they said that this was limited, and did not affect
their expectation of privacy in relation to this information. They said that
the publication had not just reported this speculation, but adopted and added
to it itself, as shown through the headlines on both the front page and inside
article. They emphasised that the speculation included in the article would
lead to further questions from members of the public and other media outlets,
which they said constituted a further intrusion for them and their families.
6. While the
complainants accepted that Mr McPartlin was well-known as an entertainer, they
said that Ms Corbett was a private individual, with no independent public
profile. Therefore, they said that the fact the media had speculated on the
possible pregnancies of certain well-known individuals in the past did not
diminish the intrusive effect of the article. Further, they said that the
publication of this private information could not reasonably be justified in
the public interest.
7. The publication
did not accept that it had breached the Code. It said that the article did not
contain any information about which the complainants had a reasonable
expectation of privacy, and therefore Clause 2 was not engaged. It said that
the publication had not revealed the fact of a pregnancy, but had simply
reported comments made by members of the public on social media, which it did
not accept could be considered private information. It provided screenshots of
more than 100 comments that had been posted online by members of the public,
speculating that the woman looked pregnant. In some cases the comments had been
subject to “voting” by other members of the public; they had been “upvoted” up
to 200 times. It argued that it had no
knowledge as to whether or not the complainant was pregnant, but had simply
reported on speculation that was in the public domain.
8. While the
publication accepted that the reporting of speculation could, in certain
circumstances, constitute a breach of Clause 2, it did not accept that this was
the case in this instance. It said that the article had not reported the
pregnancy as fact, but clearly as the conjecture of others. It said that it had
explained that the claims had been made by members of the public who plainly
had no direct knowledge of the matter. It said that the article had not
reported or suggested that any source with direct knowledge of the matter had
commented on it. In these circumstances, readers were able to come to their own
conclusion about the credibility of the claims. It also said that its readers
would read the article in the context of the publication in which it appeared,
and would not consider it to be an authorative source of news. It denied that
the article would “force the hand” of the complainants by putting them in a
position where they felt obliged to confirm or deny the claims.
9. The publication
stressed that it was entitled to discuss and report on the lives of people who
may be of interest to its readers. It said that light-hearted and affectionate
articles such as the one under complaint were of great importance to its readership,
and said that reporting on such matters was of public interest. It provided a
number of examples of similar stories in other publications, which speculated
on the possible pregnancies of various women in the public eye. While the
publication did not wish to advance a specific public interest justification,
as it did not accept Clause 2 was engaged, it said that the article itself was
an example of freedom of expression, which is recognised and protected under
the Editors’ Code.
10. Regardless, during direct correspondence between the parties the publication did offer a meeting with senior editorial executives at the magazine, and a published apology to attempt to resolve the complaint.
Relevant Code Provisions
11. 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
12. The Committee acknowledged that the complainants had found the publication of the article distressing.
13. The complainants’ position was that the publication of
speculation about a possible pregnancy, regardless of whether or not it was
accurate, was intrusive. The Committee emphasised that an individual may have a
reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to information about a pregnancy,
specifically in relation to information regarding a pregnancy in the early
months, given the risks of complications. Further, it acknowledged that the
publication of speculation may, in and of itself, be intrusive, depending on
the full circumstances.
14. In this instance, the publication had been able to
demonstrate that around the time the article was published, published
photographs had given rise to widespread speculation by members of the public
as to whether the couple were expecting a child together. These included
comments on various articles published online, some of which had been “upvoted”
dozens of times by other users, apparently endorsing the speculation. The
article directly quoted a number of these comments, and made clear to readers
that these were the views of “fans” who had made comments online in response to
the publication of the photograph of the woman. The publication itself had not
expressed a view on the credibility of these claims; nor had it added details
to the speculation, or endorsed the views which had been expressed by members
of the public.
15. There was no suggestion, in the article or otherwise,
that the publication was in possession of any information about the accuracy of
this claim. The Committee did not consider that the article was an attempt by
the publication to report on or reveal the fact of a pregnancy without the
complainants’ consent. Given the fact that the article was reporting on claims
which were in the public domain, and given the way in which the claims were
presented in the article, the Committee concluded that the magazine’s
publication of an article referring to this speculation did not constitute an
intrusion into the complainants’ private lives. There was no breach of Clause
16. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint receives: 04/10/2018
Date decision issued: 24/01/2019
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