Decision of the Complaints Committee – 09304-19 A Woman v The Scotsman
Summary of Complaint
1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Scotsman breached Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Trumps ‘frustrated’ by foreign projects ban” published on 26 October 2019.
2. The article reported on a meeting hosted at an evangelical church in Glasgow, in which an employee of Trump International Scotland and her husband addressed approximately 120 people and promoted a book about President Trump written by the man. It gave details of the speeches made by these two individuals which focussed on their views on President Donald Trump and his business dealings in Scotland.
3. The article also appeared online on 25 October 2019 with the headline “Trumps ‘frustrated’ at inability to pursue ‘foreign investment’ deals, says Trump Org executive”. This article was more substantial than the print counterpart and went into more detail about what was said at the event and the backgrounds of the speakers. For example, it quoted the employee of Trump International Scotland discussing her faith, which she said was “the single most important thing in life and business”. The article then went on to report that she had said: “My journey has been a sequence of going down doors and paths that get bigger and more daunting, and here I am today, and I work for one of the most formidable … he’s [President Trump] no longer just a formidable business man, he’s a history maker, a game changer, he’s an incredible human being who defied all predictions.” The article also reported that she said she prayed for President Trump, and that she described him as a man who “is not inhibited by anything - rules, laws, policies, ways of working,” and that he would “receive that” and thank her. It also reported that the employee first attended the church whilst studying as a student and gave details of her father’s career and church activities.
4. The woman, the employee of Trump International Scotland who was quoted in the article, said that the article breached Clause 2 by reporting the comments she made about her faith. She said that she was unaware of the presence of the reporter at the event. She noted that the event was hosted by a church and she said it was intended to be a “safe space” for attendees to talk about their faith freely without the expectation that their comments would be reported. She said that her faith was very personal to her; she had chosen not to talk about it publicly before. She also said that there was a breach of Clause 12 as the information regarding her religion was not relevant to the overall article, and reporting this information constituted discrimination against her based on her Christian faith. Finally, she also said that the attendance of the reporter at the event and the subsequent publication of the views she expressed at it about her faith constituted a breach of Clause 3 because demonstrated an “agenda” held by the reporter against Trump International Scotland.
5. The publication did not accept that there was a breach of the Code. It said that just because the event took place in a church, did not mean that it constituted a church service – it was a ticketed event where the speakers were discussing their experiences of working with President Donald Trump, Trump International Scotland’s business dealings, and promoting a book which was also for sale at the event. It noted that the tickets could be booked by any member of the public without any vetting or registration requirements as demonstrated by the reporter who attended the event. It said that another speaker at the event acknowledged that it was a public, ticketed event, and it was not in dispute that over 120 people were in attendance. It also provided screenshots of social media adverts showing that the church promoted the event as an opportunity to hear the complainant and other speakers discuss their experiences of working with President Trump. It said that for all these reasons, the complainant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy over the comments she made at the event, and so reporting these comments did not constitute an intrusion into her privacy. It also noted that there was a public interest in reporting comments relating to President Donald Trump. It did not accept that the article was pejorative in any way towards the complainant’s faith – it simply reported her comments without any other commentary of any kind. Furthermore, it said that simply writing a series of articles which scrutinised the operations of a business did not constitute harassment or engage the terms of Clause 3.
Relevant Code Provisions
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. Clause 12 (Discrimination)
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
*The Public Interest
There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.
1. The public interest includes, but is not confined to:
2. There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.
3. The regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will become so.
4. Editors invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they reasonably believed publication - or journalistic activity taken with a view to publication – would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest and explain how they reached that decision at the time.
Findings of the Committee
9. The online version of the article quoted comments made by the complainant at the event, including comments she made about her faith, the fact that she was a Christian and had first attended the church as a student. The Committee noted that the complainant had not previously put this information into the public domain, and that she was not aware that a journalist was present at the event and her remarks would be reported. However, in this instance, the complainant was speaking at a ticketed event promoted to the public as an opportunity to hear her speak about President Donald Trump, and to advertise her husband’s book – the fact that it took place in a church did not award the complainant any greater expectation of privacy over what she chose to share with the audience. It was clear from the article that the complainant spoke at length about President Trump, and indeed the comments she made about her faith were in the context of her career and dealings with the President. Where the event was a public speaking engagement, which was promoted as an opportunity to hear the complainant speak about her professional life, the complainant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy over the comments she made about her religion whilst as a speaker at the event. There was no breach of Clause 2.
10. In addition to reporting the comments made by the complainant about her faith, the article reported that she had first attended the church which hosted the event as a student and included information about her father’s career and church activities. The article reported this information without comment – simply reporting these facts in and of themselves did not constitute a pejorative reference to her religion. The article was focussed on the comments made by the complainant and her husband as they discussed their experiences of working with President Donald Trump, and in this context, the complainant discussed the role of her faith in her life and career. As such, referring to her faith – both in reporting the comments she made at the event, and her background relationship with the church that hosted the event – was genuinely relevant to the story. There was no breach of Clause 12.
11. The Editors’ Code makes clear that publications are allowed to be biased, partisan, and take a view on a particular issue, as long as the code is not otherwise breached. Newspapers are also free to select which subjects to cover or how much coverage to give an issue. The complainant had not said that the reporter had acted in a way which was intimidating or harassing, or had failed to respect a request to desist from contacting the complainant directly – indeed the complainant had argued that the reporter should have made a direct approach to the business, as opposed to attending the event without her knowledge. As such, the fact that the reporter had written several articles critical of Trump International Scotland, or had criticised it on social media, did not engage to the terms of Clause 3.
12. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 03/12/2019
Date complaint concluded: 28/05/2020
The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.