06649-17 Newman v Daily Record

Decision: No breach - after investigation

Decision of the Complaints Committee 06649-17 Newman v Daily Record

Summary of Complaint

1. Andrew Newman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Record breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in relation to its journalists’ conduct, and articles headlined:

1) “Scotland's biggest ticket tout: Millionaire's jetset lifestyle is funded by milking fans for the hottest gigs”, published on 27 May 2016.

2) “Scotland can lead the way in kicking out ticket touts: MP wants new laws to stop real fans being ripped off”, published on 29 May 2016.

3) “Exposed: Ticket tout Andrew Newman rakes in huge profits from Deacon Blue anniversary gig”, published on 8 November 2016.

4) “Bay City Rollers member confronts 'parasite' ticket tout whose greed is wrecking the music industry”, published on 11 November 2016.

5) “Family Fortunes”, published on 3 April 2017. The article was also published online with the headline “Supertout Andrew Newman using family and friends to rip off music fans”.

6) “Why won’t you blacklist supertouts?”, published on 6 April 2017. The article was also published online with the headline “Ticketmaster under growing pressure to blacklist scammer Andrew Newman and other shameless touts after Daily Record investigation”.

7) “Weed out touts”, published on 10 April 2017. The article was also published online with the headline “Top music industry figures demand that worst touts are weeded out and banned by ticket companies”.

8) “The ticket sellers could stop the touts whenever they want..my kid could write the code for them”, published on 21 April 2017. The article was also published online with the headline “Supertout bot inventor calls for blacklist as he offers to fix Ticketmaster's system”.

2. The articles related to the complainant’s business, which purchases concert tickets, and resells them via secondary market sites. The articles were generally critical of the complainant’s business activities, repeatedly referring to him as a “ticket tout”. They reported details of how he allegedly carried out his business, and reported criticism that had been made by others.

3. The first article reported that an individual from a consultancy which had worked with the police and venues to build intelligence on ticket selling, claimed that the complainant “harvested prime tickets in bulk through very aggressive methods that have put him at the head of the pack”. The individual was also quoted as saying that “Software used by touts to harvest tickets aggressively can now target the very best seats”. The first article described the complainant’s wealth by reference to the assets of his company.

4. The third article reported that “[the complainant’s] computers, running in an office in Linlithgow, managed to harvest hundreds of Deacon Blue tickets”.

5. The fourth article reported that the Bay City Rollers were “furious to discover that [the complainant] had hijacked sales for their upcoming tour”. It reported that a member of the Bay City Rollers had “turned up at [the complainant’s company] to brand him a ‘parasite’ and hand over a letter that denounces his trade”. It was accompanied by an image of the musician standing next to the complainant, captioned “The confrontation”. It was also accompanied by a video of the newspaper interviewing the musician after he had handed the complainant the letter, and an image of the letter in question. It reported that the complainant “uses sophisticated computers to harvest huge numbers of tickets for gigs”. It also described the complainant’s wealth by referring simply to a figure, and reported the value and brand of his car, which was pictured in the article.

6. The fifth article reported that a source had said that “[the complainant] isn’t alone in [reselling tickets]. Many of the top touts use the same methods – multiple credit cards and identities, often combined with botnet computer software”. This article reported that an employee of the complainant’s business had uploaded a photograph of himself at work, at a desk with multiple screens. This article also reported that “the multi-identity multi credit-card method which [the complainant] uses, which potentially contravenes several laws, is a favourite tactic of many of the worst touts in the UK”. It also reported that one source had said that “what we are seeing is either [the complainant] exploiting his family and friends or they are in on the act”, and that “it’s not clear if he is giving them a cut of the spoils or he is just exploiting them”. The print article was accompanied by an additional article headlined “Tougher laws are on the way”. This article stated that “a legal clampdown is on its way, but [the complainant]…could potentially already be in breach of the law”. It went on to explain that “The Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 prevent anyone from a company buying tickets while passing themselves off as fans”. It also referred to the Consumer Rights Act 2005, and said that HMRC were currently investigating whether “touts have failed to pay taxes”.

7. The sixth article reported that the complainant had “refused to tell us if he uses bots”. The seventh article reported that figures in the music industry had called for ticket sites to blacklist touts, and referred to the complainant as an example.

8. The eighth article reported that the man who had “invented online ‘bots’ used by supertouts”, had backed the newspaper’s “challenge to ticket agencies to blacklist the worst offenders”. It reported that this individual was investigated by the FBI, took a plea deal, and “got off with probation”. The article claimed that as part of the newspaper’s investigation, it had shown that “supertouts such as [the complainant]…use multiple cards and the identities of family and friends to hoover up thousands of tickets”.

9. Each of the articles contained photographs of the complainant. These included an image of him in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and image of him in a car, an image of him at a concert, an image of him at a university graduation ceremony, and an image of him at a wedding.

10. The complainant said that all eight articles were misleading, as they referred to him by name, without making clear that his company, North Financial Group Ltd (formerly named Newman Corporation Ltd), is a separate legal entity. He said that this was misleading, as it was his company which was carrying out any actions, rather than himself.

11. The complainant said that the first, third, fourth and fifth articles clearly and inaccurately stated that he used “sophisticated computers”, or computer software, to “harvest” large numbers of tickets for resale. He said that in fact, the tickets purchased by his company are bought by real people, using standard desktop computers, in exactly the same way any other customer would. He explained that while the average fan may use a ticket buying site a few times a year, his employees do this every day and have access to pre-sales by signing up to newsletters, as any other customer could. He explained that his employees therefore have the capability and knowledge to purchase tickets in a timely manner, but that all purchases are made manually. The complainant said that the sixth article was inaccurate in claiming that he had “refused to tell us if he uses bots”. He said that while the reporter had asked him questions in May 2016, he did not recall being asked specifically whether he used “ticket bots”.

12. The complainant said it was inaccurate and pejorative for the second article to refer to him as having “fleeced fans”. He said that his company carries on the legal and legitimate business of buying tickets and re-selling them.

13. The complainant said that it was inaccurate for the fourth article to claim that he had “hijacked” ticket sales for the Bay City Rollers’ upcoming tour. He had purchased tickets in a legal and legitimate manner.

14. The complainant said that the fifth article suggested he had engaged in criminal activity as his company had bought tickets on behalf of individuals, without clarifying how this was illegal. He said that it was inaccurate to suggest he had broken any laws. The complainant also said it was inaccurate to suggest that he was exploiting his family and friends; all card holders on behalf of whom his company purchases tickets provided their consent.

15. The complainant said that the individual who was the subject of the eighth article had acted illegally in the USA. He said that by referring to both him and this individual as “super touts”, the eighth article suggested that he also engaged in illegal practices. He said that his business practices are in fact entirely different, and that he does not use “bots” (software which automatically performs tasks).

16. The complainant said that the photographs accompanying the articles had been taken from his private Facebook page, which had been set to private in February 2016, long before his name was in the public domain, or publication of the first article. He said that he therefore had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to these photographs, and that by publishing them, the newspaper had breached Clause 2.

17. In relation to the first and fourth articles, the complainant said he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to his personal financial circumstances. By describing his wealth, and giving specific details of his car in the fourth article, the newspaper had breached Clause 2.

18. The complainant said that he has been persistently harassed by the newspaper’s reporter. He said that in May 2016, the reporter attended his company’s office. He said that the reporter recorded his conversation without notifying him, which he knew because he saw the recording device. The complainant said that he told the reporter he would not speak to him, and that he would not be making any comment on any stories later.

19. The complainant said that in late October 2016, after being told by the office building’s manager that he was not available and told to leave, the reporter approached the window of the office from the outside of the building, and shouted at him, trying to ask him for comment on another story. The reporter then re-entered the building to deliver a note for him.  The complainant said that he had previously made it clear that he did not wish to be approached by the reporter, and that by ignoring that request, the reporter had harassed him, in breach of Clause 3.

20. The complainant said that on 25 October 2016, following this incident, he contacted the reporter by email requesting that he cease harassing him. He said that this email was acknowledged by the reporter. He said that despite this, in November 2016, the reporter and a photographer from the newspaper accompanied a member of the Bay City Rollers to confront him. He said that photographs were taken, which was plainly harassment in light of his request that such approaches cease only weeks earlier.

21. The complainant said that on 29 March 2017, the reporter was outside his office building in his car for over an hour, and watched all of his staff leave. The complainant said that he did not leave the building until the reporter had left, as he believed he would be harassed again. The complainant said that the reporter waited while his staff left, and did not approach employees when they left the office. He therefore believed that the reporter had been attempting to speak with him. The complainant said that the following day, he had to make a further request that the reporter cease approaching his place of work, and that he should not have had to do so for a second time.

22. The newspaper said that its coverage of the complainant’s business practices was part of its campaign to highlight controversy surrounding such activity. It noted that the online secondary tickets market has been the subject of an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority. It said that the reporter leading the coverage had been called upon to give evidence at the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s investigation into ticket abuse, during which the complainant was referred to several times. It said that during its sitting, a member of the Committee had praised the coverage as “extraordinarily detailed and well researched” and “journalism at its very best”.

23. The newspaper said that the claim that the complainant used sophisticated software to harvest tickets was based on the statement from the consultant reported in the first article. It noted that this consultant had made a similar statement to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. It also provided a further statement from this consultant in response to the IPSO complaint, in which he commented on the methods used to acquire tickets in large numbers. These included using multiple employees using multiple computers to purchase from primary ticket companies, and using “high tech, aggressive software, good computers on fast internet connections”. 

24. The newspaper said that the claim the complainant had used sophisticated software was supported by a sales ledger it had seen from a show, in which the complainant, in his own name, and in the names of family, friends and staff, had purchased hundreds of tickets in such a short space of time, that it would not have been physically possible to do so manually. The newspaper said that it was not able to provide this material to IPSO in response to the complaint, as doing so would breach an obligation it had to a confidential source, in breach of Clause 14. However, it said that the sales ledger demonstrated that some kind of computer software was likely used. The newspaper said that it asked a ticket resale website for comment on this, who did not deny that this activity was taking place. The newspaper said that when it initially approached the complainant for comment on 18 May 2016, they put the allegation that he used computer software or “bots” to him, and he refused to comment.

25. The newspaper said that the complainant was the director of his company, which it understood he personally founded and grew. It said that the articles make several references to the “company” and the complainant’s “business” and denied that they were inaccurate or misleading in the manner alleged.

26. The newspaper said that “to fleece” can mean to charge excessively for goods or services.  The second article’s reference to the complainant having “fleeced” fans was a matter of editorial discretion, based on his apparent business model of purchasing tickets, and selling them on at marked-up prices, and was not inaccurate.  It said that the fourth article’s claim that the complainant “hijacked” sales of the Bay City Roller’s forthcoming tour was not inaccurate given his business model.

27. The newspaper said that the fifth article did not state or suggest that the complainant had been involved in criminal activity. It said that while it was clear from the articles that it disagreed with his working practices, this did not constitute an inaccuracy. The newspaper said the fifth article stated the opinion of a source that the complainant was either “exploiting his family and friends or they are in on the act”. It said that this was reported in accordance with its obligation to differentiate between fact, comment and conjecture, and was based, as reported in the article, on the source’s account of having seen names of the complainant’s family and friends “again and again” in relation to ticket sales.

28. The newspaper said that the eighth article made clear that the man who had “invented online ‘bots’ used by supertouts”, had conducted his business in the USA, and that the FBI had investigated his company under US legislation. It said that the article made clear that the complainant operated in Scotland, and there was no suggestion in the article that he had used illegal practices.

29. The newspaper said that when it was initially researching the complainant’s business practices, his Facebook page was publicly accessible, which is how it was able to view the photographs subject to the complaint. It said that the photographs did not reveal any private information about the complainant, and denied a breach of Clause 2 on this point.

30. In response to the complaint under Clause 3, the newspaper said that in May 2016, its reporter approached the complainant for comment. It said that he was told by the complainant that he did not wish to comment, and when asked whether he might wish to comment later, said that he would not. The newspaper said that this was taken to mean in relation to the story it was preparing at the time.

31. The newspaper said that in October 2016, its reporter approached the receptionist in the complainant’s office, and asked to speak to the complainant. It said that the receptionist responded by saying that he was not in the office that morning, which the reporter knew was untrue as he had seen the complainant through the window. Following the reporter’s request, the newspaper said the receptionist made a telephone call, and confirmed that the complainant was not in. It said that the reporter then wrote a letter to the complainant explaining that he was seeking his comments, walked to the open window and asked the complainant if he would speak with him. It said that after the complainant said “no”, the reporter asked if he could pass a letter through the window and the complainant refused. The reporter then returned to the reception, asked the receptionist to hand the letter to the complainant and left. The newspaper said that at no point was he asked to leave.

32. In relation to events prior to publication of the fourth article, the newspaper said it had been approached by the band, who had asked it to publish a story on one of its members confronting the complainant about his business practices. It said that after seeking advice, a senior editorial figure decided that for its reporters to accompany the musician would not constitute harassment. It said that while it had received the complainant’s written request to desist, the story had moved on, and there was a public interest in the newspaper covering it. It said that a photographer and a reporter both remained in separate cars around 30-40 yards and 50 yards from the complainant’s office. It said that the musician was not paid by the newspaper, and did not attend the complainant’s premises as an agent of the newspaper.

33. The newspaper said it approached the complainant’s office in March 2017 in order to speak with two of the complainant’s employees in relation to the article subsequently published on 3 April. The reporter did not approach the complainant, and did not intend to.

34. The newspaper said that while it believed its approaches to the complainant were made in accordance with the Code, there was a strong public interest in reporting the stories subject to this complaint, as reflected by the recent inquiry by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. By extension, there was a public interest in approaching the complainant in a professional manner to give him the opportunity to comment on the criticisms of his business practice, and to help verify the accuracy of information. It said that in spite of the complainant’s assertions that he did not wish to comment, the complainant had decided in July 2017 to give an on-the-record quote to another newspaper in relation to his business.

35. The complainant said that the comments from the consultant, which the newspaper had provided in response to his complaint, were not based on any facts pertaining to his business, and were not relevant in the context of his complaint. He noted that the newspaper would not provide the sales ledger it had referred to, and said he doubted such a document actually existed.

Relevant Code provisions

36. 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. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information.

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

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

37. The Committee first considered the alleged breach of Clause 3. The newspaper had made a number of approaches to the complainant’s business over a period of months, as part of an investigation into the secondary ticket market. The secondary ticket market is a matter which has generated public concern, and the newspaper’s investigation of this topic served a clear public interest. The Committee considered the newspaper’s approaches to the complainant and his business in that context.

38. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern that the reporter had used a recording device when speaking to him in May 2016. This was denied by the newspaper, but the Committee considered that, in any event, the use of a recording device in these circumstances would not represent harassment, and there was no breach of Clause 3 on this point. On the complainant’s account, in May 2016, he told the reporter that he would not comment on a story that the newspaper was intending to publish and that he would not be commenting “on any stories later on either”.  However, the Committee considered that it did not represent harassment of the complainant when the newspaper  approached him at his offices in October 2016; the approach was made five months later and the complainant was being invited to comment on his ongoing business activities for a separate story. The Committee acknowledged that the complainant and the newspaper had different recollections of the reporter’s conduct at the time of making this approach. However, it considered that there were no grounds for finding that the journalist’s conduct amounted to intimidation, under the terms of Clause 3. 

39. Following this approach, the complainant made a written request to the newspaper asking it to cease contacting him, in which he set out his position that he did not wish to comment on any story, and did not wish to be approached at his place of work. Seventeen days after receiving this request, the newspaper accompanied the band member to report and photograph his meeting with the complainant. The Committee considered that the band member’s decision to confront the complainant was a distinct story about the complainant’s business, which highlighted concerns within the music industry about secondary ticket sales. On this occasion, the newspaper had simply photographed the band member’s approach to the complainant; its journalist had not asked the complainant for a comment. For these reasons, the Committee found that it was not a breach of Clause 3 for the newspaper to photograph and report on the band member’s meeting with the complainant; this was a separate news story which the newspaper was entitled to report.

40. At the end of March 2017, more than four months later, the newspaper attended the complainant’s offices for a fourth time. There was no direct interaction between the complainant and the reporter, as the reporter had remained in his car, and the complainant had remained in his office. On the newspaper’s account, it had not been seeking to speak with the complainant, but wished to speak with two of his employees, although the Committee noted the complainant’s scepticism on this point. In addition, a significant period of time had passed since the complainant had informed the newspaper that he did not wish to comment on any stories about his business. Over this period, the public debate on secondary ticket sales had developed, including investigations by Government agencies, and an inquiry by a Parliamentary Select Committee, in which the complainant had been named by witnesses. In these circumstances, the newspaper’s attendance at the complainant’s office in March 2017 did not represent harassment of the complainant in breach of Clause 3.

41. The Committee then considered the complaints under Clause 1. The first article contained comments from an expert on the secondary ticket resale market, who said that the complainant used “aggressive methods that have put him at the head of the pack" and the article explained that the complainant used multiple accounts and multiple computers to beat the competition, having hired staff "… to spin out his methods on a grand scale…" The expert quoted in the article commented, more generally, on practices employed by some touts and that the use of software can form part of methods used by “touts”. The third and fourth articles claimed that the complainant used “sophisticated computers” as part of his business model. A number of the articles referred to the use of 'ticket bots’ by some touts and both the fifth and sixth articles reported that the complainant had previously refused to answer, when asked, if he used “bots”, which indicated that the newspaper had not been in a position to establish whether or not such a method was used by the complainant. The eighth article focused on an individual who used “bots” in the USA to harvest tickets, in which the complainant was described as a "super tout”. The articles did not, therefore allege that the complainant carried out his business by the use of “ticket bots”, or sophisticated software; the references in the articles to the use of “ticket bots” were more general and were made in relation to methods used by some touts. The articles made clear that the complainant employed multiple accounts and multiple identities as part of his business practices and the additional references in the articles to the use of computers were not misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1.

42. The newspaper said that in May 2016, it had asked the complainant whether he had used bots, although the complainant said he did not recall being asked the question. This interaction had taken place over 11 months before this complaint was made, and the Committee was not in the position to make a finding as to whether the newspaper had asked for his response on this point. It was not in dispute that bots formed part of the business practices of some ticket touts” and the Committee did not find that the newspaper had failed to take care not to publish inaccurate information by referring to “bots” or sophisticated software forming part of methods used by some ticket touts, in the context of articles which reported both on the complainant’s business practices and the secondary ticket industry more generally. The articles distinguished clearly between conjecture and fact, and did not require correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).

43. The fifth article did not assert as fact that the complainant had broken the law; it observed that his business method “potentially contravenes several laws” in the context of a campaign which was critical of the secondary ticketing industry. The print article went on to specify which laws were potentially being infringed. In addition, in response to the complaint, the newspaper referred to an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority, which would be considering whether “businesses selling tickets and the secondary ticketing platforms advertising them are failing to provide the full range of information in breach of the law”, and specifically, in breach of the Consumer Rights Act 2015.  In these circumstances, it was not significantly misleading for the newspaper to speculate whether the complainant’s business model “potentially contravenes several laws”, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

44. The eighth article did not imply that the complainant had acted illegally by referring to him as a “supertout”; the article had focussed on another individual who had been found guilty of offences in the USA in relation to secondary ticket sales and the reference to the complainant was made in passing. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.  It was not in dispute that the complainant’s business practice included purchasing tickets for concerts and events when they are released, and reselling them at a higher price. It was not misleading for the newspaper to refer to him as “fleecing real fans”, in the second article, or to refer to him having “hijacked” ticket sales, in the fourth article. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points. The articles reported on the activities of the complainant’s business, which he operated through a company of which he was a director and shareholder. The complainant’s concern that the articles did not make clear that the company through which he runs his business is a distinct legal entity did not represent a breach of Clause 1.

45. In response to the complaint, the complainant confirmed that his business used the identities of family members to purchase tickets, but he said that this was not exploitation, as it was with their consent. However, the fifth article did not allege that the complainant was exploiting his family. It raised the question as to whether they were either being “exploited”, or were “in on the act”. The article clearly distinguished between conjecture and fact, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

46. The newspaper said that it had obtained the photographs of the complainant when they had been publicly accessible on the complainant’s Facebook page. The Committee noted the complainant’s scepticism about this explanation, given he had made his account private in February 2016. In any event, it was accepted that they had been publicly accessible until up to three months prior to publication and the Committee noted that the complainant had posed in each of the photographs in circumstances where the information about the complainant contained in the photographs was limited. For these reasons, the publication of these images did not intrude on the complainant’s private life, and there was no breach of Clause 2 on this point. The publication of publicly available information about the value of the complainant’s company, and by extension, his personal wealth, did not breach Clause 2.

Conclusions

47. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action required

48. N/A

Date complaint received: 02/05/2017

Date decision issued: 21/09/2017

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