Decision of the Complaints Committee – 09834-21 A man v thesun.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. A man complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that thesun.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “FISTS OF FURY Moment yob with ‘better punches than Tyson Fury’ floors bouncer in savage fight outside pub”, published on 13 September 2021.
2. The online article reported on a fight outside a pub in Essex. It said that footage showed the moment “three yobs square[d]” up to a bouncer, who then adopted a “boxer stance” and “catches one [of the three] with a savage hook that knocks him out cold”; the video showed the moment of contact and the individual “lying down, motionless” on the floor. The article included a number of still images from the video which it stated had gone “viral” on social media with over 30,000 views on Twitter. The article described those involved in the incident as “thugs” and said that two individuals had been arrested by Essex Police for assault.
3. The complainant, the father of the individual knocked unconscious, said the article presented a misleading account of the incident in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy). He said it made no reference to the actions that preceded the incident and implied criminality on the part of his son by describing him as a “yob” and a “thug”; his son was not involved in the fight but was rather attempting to de-escalate the situation.
4. In addition, the complainant said the publication of the video was insensitive in breach of Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock), particularly where the video showed the moment his son was knocked unconscious, and a still image revealed the extent of his injuries. He also said that the coverage represented a breach of Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) in the light of ongoing criminal proceedings and potentially constituted contempt of court.
5. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. It said the article reported the content of a publicly-available video, which had been uploaded onto social media three days prior to publication and attracted over 30,000 views; it did not apportion blame and the omission of details preceding the recording did not render the story inaccurate or misleading. It said that the article’s characterisation of the complainant’s son as a “yob” was not inaccurate or misleading in circumstances where he was clearly involved in the incident and where the video showed a violent street brawl that had resulted in police intervention and arrests. It added that this characterisation was reflective of comments made on social media prior to publication.
6. The newspaper did not accept that the article’s publication breached Clause 4; the complainant’s son was not named or identified, with the injuries he had sustained not visible. The newspaper said that it did not consider it necessary or appropriate prior to publication to obscure or pixelate the video or images used given that the low resolution of the footage ensured none of the individuals featured were identifiable.
7. The newspaper did not accept that the article had engaged the terms of Clauses 9 as it had not included any references to a relative of an individual accused of crime.
Relevant Code Provisions
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 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock)
In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. These provisions should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.
Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime)*
i) Relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story.
ii) Particular regard should be paid to the potentially vulnerable position of children under the age of 18 who witness, or are victims of, crime. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.
iii) Editors should generally avoid naming children under the age of 18 after arrest for a criminal offence but before they appear in a youth court unless they can show that the individual’s name is already in the public domain, or that the individual (or, if they are under 16, a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult) has given their consent. This does not restrict the right to name juveniles who appear in a crown court, or whose anonymity is lifted.
The Public Interest
There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.
The public interest includes, but is not confined to:
- Detecting or exposing crime, or the threat of crime, or serious impropriety.
- Protecting public health or safety.
- Protecting the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.
- Disclosing a person or organisation’s failure or likely failure to comply with any obligation to which they are subject.
- Disclosing a miscarriage of justice.
- Raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public.
- Disclosing concealment, or likely concealment, of any of the above.
There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.
The regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will become so.
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.
An exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16.
Findings of the Committee
8. In cases of grief or shock, Clause 4 states that publication should be handled sensitively. The complainant said that the publication of the video of the incident had been insensitive. The Committee noted that the footage had been freely available and circulating on social media prior to publication for several days prior to its publication in the article under complaint. In addition, the Committee did not consider the complainant’s son identifiable: he was not named and the quality of the video too poor to render him identifiable to readers who were unaware of his involvement in the incident. In such circumstances, where the complainant’s son was not identifiable and the footage was so widely available prior to publication, the Committee concluded that its re-publication in this context did not represent a failure to handle publication sensitively, in breach of Clause 4.
9. The Committee then turned to the concerns raised under Clause 1. The complainant had raised concerns that the article had described his son as a “yob” and a “thug”; implying a level of criminality and violence on his part. The footage of the incident showed that the complainant’s son had been involved in the incident and this had formed the basis of the publication’s characterisation of him as a “yob” and a “thug”; the Committee did not establish that this was inaccurate or misleading. The article had not apportioned blame but instead described the incident from the information included within the video. The newspaper was not obliged to report the events leading up to the incident, nor did the omission of this information render the article inaccurate or misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1.
10. The purpose of Clause 9 is to provide protection to family and friends of individuals convicted or accused of crime. As no such individuals were identified in the article, the terms of this clause were not engaged and there was no breach.
11. Finally, the Committee noted any concerns about contempt of court were outside the parameters of the Editors’ Code and its own remit. As such, the Committee made no ruling in reference to this aspect of the complaint.
12. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 13/09/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 24/12/2021Back to ruling listing