Decision of the Complaints Committee 09612-16 Aina v Scottish Mail on Sunday
Summary of complaint
1. Adebayo Aina complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Scottish Mail on Sunday breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 14 (Confidential Sources) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Fake marriage migrant back in UK…to sue YOU”, published on 23 October 2016.
2. The article reported that the complainant was pursuing a claim for damages against the Government through the Scottish courts. It explained that the complainant was a Nigerian citizen, and that while deciding whether to grant him European residency, the Home Office had given him a six-month Certificate of Application, allowing him to work. It reported that this certificate lapsed before the Home Office had reached its decision on residency, and was not automatically renewed, nor renewed after repeated requests. It reported that while the complainant was later given a new certificate, he had “launched a court case claiming he had been unfairly treated”.
3. The article reported that the complainant had previously been found guilty of procuring a false marriage and trying to remain in the UK by deception in 2010. It explained that he had been deported to Nigeria in January 2011, but having married his partner, who was a British citizen, he had re-entered the UK in 2013, and had made the application for European residency.
4. The article reported the complainant’s comments on his claim for damages. These included that his family had “gone many days without eating properly”. It reported he had said that “it was stressful”, that “people pride the UK on being a very open society, a very fair society. But if you have never been through the court system you will never know. If you have a sense of injustice it just spurs you on to fight on”. It also reported that the complainant acknowledged he had previously broken the law by staging a fake wedding, but that he had been struggling to afford the fees charged to foreign students at the time, so had wanted to become a UK citizen by marriage. The article was accompanied by a photograph of the complainant.
5. The complainant said that a journalist from the newspaper had visited his home before publication to discuss his previous false marriage, and his current case against the Home Office. He said that when the journalist asked about his experience of being arrested, he said it was not something he was willing to discuss. He said that shortly after she left, he telephoned her to say that he was withdrawing his comments because his case was still in court. He explained that it would be disrespectful to the court for his comments to feature in the article, and his concern that the comments could be used by his opponent. He said he followed up his telephone conversation with an email, in which he said: “I do not want you to report on our private conversation”. The complainant said that the comments reported in the article were private. He said that the newspaper had breached its obligation to protect a confidential source of information.
6. The complainant said that when the journalist visited his house, she asked if she could take a picture, and he declined. He said that after leaving his house, the journalist called to ask if the newspaper could send a photographer the next day, but he declined again. The complainant said that the photograph of him which accompanied the article was taken as he left court. He said he was unaware of the photograph being taken, but said that it represented an intrusion in to his privacy, and harassment, in circumstances where he had previously refused a request for a photograph.
7. The complainant said that he had entered the false marriage in order to pay home student rates for his university education. He said he then used his false marriage to obtain an EEA residence card as his student visa was due to expire. He said it was inaccurate to report that he had entered the false marriage in order to obtain UK citizenship.
8. The newspaper said that its journalist visited the complainant’s home, and identified herself correctly. It said that the complainant then spoke to her at length, fully aware that she was a journalist for the newspaper, with no agreement about confidentiality, and making no requests that any of his comments be ‘off the record’. It said that the journalist took notes during the interview. The newspaper said that only after the journalist left his home, the complainant contacted her and requested she should not report the interview. It said that the journalist consulted with her editor, who declined to accede the complainant’s request. The newspaper said that there was no reason why someone should be permitted to change their mind about giving an interview, particularly when they were being questioned about their previous criminal activity. The newspaper said that, in any event, his comments were on matters relating to his court case, and revealed little that was personal or private.
9. The newspaper said that the photograph of the complainant was taken in a public place after the complainant had attended court, where he did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. It said that that the taking of this photograph was neither harassment, nor an intrusion into the complainant’s privacy.
10. The newspaper denied that it was significantly inaccurate to report that the complainant had wanted to become a UK citizen by marriage. It said that the article made clear that the purpose of the fake marriage was to pay home student rates, rather than the fees charged to foreign students. In addition, the newspaper said that EEA residency would have permitted the complainant to apply for UK citizenship. Nevertheless, the newspaper said it had made a note in its internal library stating that the complainant had wanted to obtain EEA residency, rather than become a UK citizen.
Relevant Code Provisions
11. 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 source
Clause 14 (Confidential sources)
Journalists have a moral obligation to protect
confidential sources of information.
Findings of the Committee
12. The complainant engaged in a conversation with a journalist, in the full knowledge he was speaking to a journalist who was making enquiries on behalf of her newspaper, with a view to publication. The complainant subsequently contacted the journalist to say that he did not want his comments published, describing his conversation with the journalist as “private”. The reason he gave was that publication could affect his position in the proceedings. The comments which were made by the complainant and subsequently published by the newspaper, despite the complainant's request, were general comments which he had made about his ongoing legal proceedings, and about his previous conviction. The Committee considered that he did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to any of the information disclosed by his comments, and that, in all the circumstances, publication without the complainant's consent, did not represent a failure to respect his privacy, and this aspect of the complaint did not raise a breach of Clause 2.
13. The journalist made no agreement with the complainant that he would be a confidential source of information. Publishing his comments, and attributing them to the complainant, did not raise a breach of Clause 14.
14. When the complainant left the court building, he was in a public place, and engaged in innocuous activity. He did not have reasonable expectation of privacy such that consent for the photograph was required under the terms of Clause 2. The taking and publication of the photograph did not raise a breach of Clause 2.
15. The complainant was unaware that the photograph had been taken, and there was therefore no suggestion the complainant had been intimidated by the photographer. In addition, the fact the complainant had declined the newspaper’s previous offers to take his photograph, did not in itself prevent its photographer from taking photographs of him leaving court. There was no breach of Clause 3.
Committee noted the complainant’s position that he had entered into a false marriage
in order to pay home-student rates, and then used it in an attempt to obtain an
EEA residency card, rather than to obtain British citizenship. The article made
clear that the complainant had been found guilty of procuring a false marriage
and trying to remain in the UK by deception.
The article also explained the complainant’s position that that he
entered the false marriage because he was struggling to pay his university
fees, and whether the complainant had intended to pay lower fees by obtaining
EEA residency or British citizenship was not significant in the context of the
article. The article did not contain a significant inaccuracy on this point,
such as to raise a breach of Clause 1.
17. The complaint was not upheld.
Date complaint received: 23/10/2016
Date decision issued: 25/01/2017
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