Resolution Statement 11532-17 Miller v The Sun

Decision: Resolved - IPSO mediation

Resolution Statement 11532-17 Miller v The Sun

1. Gina Miller complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in relation to an article headlined “Who do EU think you are?”, published on 4 November in print and online, and an online article headlined “'KILL HER, SHE'S NOT EVEN BRITISH' Brexit blocker Gina Miller receives rape and death threats after bombshell Article 50 ruling”, also published on 4 November.

2. The articles reported on the complainant’s Article 50 legal challenge, after the High Court had handed down its judgment in favour of the complainant. The first article referred to the complainant as a “foreign-born multimillionaire”. It also used the words “Guyana-born”, as a prefix to her name. The second article reported on threats that had been made against the complainant on social media. It also used the words “Guyana-born” as a prefix to her name, and referred to her as “Brexit blocker”. A preview of the first article on the publication’s search results page referred to judges overruling “the nation as loaded foreigners defy the will of British public and derail Brexit”.

3. The complainant said that the first article was inaccurate, as it deliberately distorted the facts on her nationality, taking every opportunity to emphasise her birth country, Guyana, over her British Nationality. She said that although she was born in Guyana, she moved to the UK as a young child, and has spent the rest of her life in the UK. She said it was inaccurate to refer to her as a foreigner. She said it was inaccurate to claim that she was defying the will of the British people; the Article 50 claim was not about overruling the EU referendum, but was about the constitutional requirements of leaving. She said it was also inaccurate to refer to her as a “Brexit-blocker”.

4. The complainant said that the newspaper’s repeated reference to Guyana was discriminatory. She said that when taken in the full spirit in which it was intended, Clause 12 extended to references to her country of birth. She said that in any event, her country of birth was closely connected to her race and colour.  She said that the references were unnecessary, and pejorative, in breach of Clause 12.

5. The complainant said that the newspaper’s editorialising, combined with the inaccurate and distorted reporting had resulted in xenophobic sentiment. She said that many of the user comments on the two articles reflected the inaccuracies and pejorative reporting in the articles, and that the newspaper was responsible for these. She said that explicit threats to her had resulted in her fearing for her and her family’s security, in breach of Clause 2. She said that the newspaper was on notice of the abuse she was suffering, and would have been aware that its user comments breached the Code, but failed to take action.

6. The newspaper said it was true that the complainant was “foreign-born” and “Guyana born”, and noted that the first article reported that she was born in Guyana, but grew up in Britain. The newspaper denied that the articles distorted the facts on the complainant’s nationality. It said that the Prime Minister’s plans to trigger Article 50 without a Parliamentary vote had been “derailed” as a result of the complainant’s legal claim, and denied that the first article was inaccurate in the manner alleged. The newspaper said that the first article clearly distinguished between fact and comment, and there was no breach of Clause 1 (iv).

7. The newspaper said that Clause 12 does not prohibit reference to an individual’s country of birth, and that in any event, the references to the complainant’s country of birth were neither prejudicial nor pejorative. In addition, it said that the complainant’s country of birth was relevant to the subject matter of the articles, which was that several of the claimants in the Article 50 challenge had foreign connections. It denied it had breached Clause 12.

8. The newspaper said that under its regulations, IPSO can only consider complaints about user generated comments after they have been reviewed or moderated by the publications. It said that in this case, the complaint about the comments was received on the afternoon of 2nd December, and that the comments were removed on 5th December.

Relevant Code Provisions

9. 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 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.

Mediated outcome

10. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.

11. Following IPSO’s intervention, the newspaper offered to remove the second article from its website. It also offered to remove the words “Guyanan-born”, and “foreign-born” from the first article, where they were used as a prefix to the complainant’s name.

12. In addition, IPSO arranged a meeting between the complainant and the newspaper at IPSO’s offices. During this meeting, the newspaper agreed to remove user comments from a further article, and to take action to ensure that similar problems did not arise in relation to user comments on future online articles which are about the complainant. It agreed that, unless it was clearly relevant in the article, it would avoid using the words “Guyanan-born”, or “foreign-born” as prefixes to the complainant’s name in the future.

13. The complainant said that this resolved the matter to her satisfaction.

14. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.

Date complaint received: 30/11/2016
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 21/03/2017

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