Decision of the Complaints Committee – 11947-21 Dizaei v Daily Mail
Summary of Complaint
1. Shahameh Dizaei complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Has the Met's criminal in uniform got NO shame?”, published on 1st November 2021.
2. The print article reported on “a corporate video” created by Covert Security Ltd, a business it said was founded by the complainant’s husband Ali Dizaei, who featured in the promotional video and was described as the “founder and chairman”. It said that “[i]n a slick video, Dizaei trades on his police career and medal for ‘good conduct’ as his firm pledges help to catch thieves and fraudsters – but makes no mention of his two stints in jail!”. It went on to state that “[f]ormer colleagues of Dizaei, whose facial features and hairline have undergone an intriguing transformation since his days in the Met, reacted with astonishment this week after the extraordinary new video by his company emerged”. The article went on to describe Mr Dizaei and his wife’s lifestyle, stating that “[d]ozens of pictures on his wife Shaham’s Instagram and Facebook accounts have given a day-by-day account of their incredible lifestyle including regular updates from Dubai – one of their favourite haunts”. The article further said that Mr Dizaei had “ceased being a director [of Covert Security Ltd] with ‘significant control’… early last year – replaced by his flamboyant Iranian wife, now 46, who remains in control of it and a serving director”. It went on to describe Mrs Dizaei as having “a penchant for designer clothes” and who “has hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram”. The article was accompanied by a number of photographs of Mr and Mrs Dizaei.
3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format, headlined “Has the Met's criminal in uniform got NO shame? In a slick video, Ali Dizaei trades on his police career and medal for 'good conduct' as his firm pledges help to catch thieves and fraudsters... but makes no mention of his two stints in jail”.
4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as the video was private and had not been published on the company’s website. The complainant said that the video referred to in the article was a draft version of the video and had been circulated to friends, family, and business associates for their feedback, and then went on to be edited before a final version was added to the company’s website. She said that the article inaccurately suggested the draft video was publicly available and had been released by the company. The complainant said there had been a further breach of Clause 1 as the article had failed to mention the final version of the video, which was publicly available and differed significantly from the version mentioned. The complainant also said that she had not had an opportunity to comment and respond to the inaccuracies within the article, in breach of Clause 1. She said that while the journalist had emailed a generic email address at Covert Security Ltd, this had been addressed to her husband, Ali Dizaei, and the questions included in this email were all in relation to him.
5. The complainant also considered that there had been a breach of Clause 9. She said that the article intended to make her relevant to the story without her consent and an opportunity to comment and that she should not have been considered as relevant to the article or to her husband’s spent conviction. The complainant further said that Clause 9 had been breached as she considered the article implied that her and her family were making “ill-gotten gains” by misrepresenting the facts, and she considered the article should not have referenced her husband’s spent conviction. She added that her husband’s conviction is legally spent under the terms of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and that after the rehabilitation period has passed, the individual should be regarded as a rehabilitated person.
6. The complainant said that the article had also breached Clause 2. She said that her publicly available social media should not have been “preyed upon” in order to write a story; she said that describing her as having “a penchant for designer clothes” undermined her. She also said that her privacy had been breached as the video referred to was not publicly available; the complainant considered the publication was not lawfully in possession of the video.
7. She had also said that there had been a breach of Clause 3 as the article under complaint, along with previous articles published by the publication constituted persistent pursuit by a particular journalist.
8. The publication said it did not accept a breach of the Code. Regarding Clause 1, it said that the article reported that the video had “emerged”, not that it was available publicly on Covert Security’s website. It added that, as the article was reporting specifically on the original video, it was not necessary to refer to the subsequently published version of the video. The publication further said that it did not accept that the complainant was not given an opportunity to comment on the story; it said that the journalist had emailed the complainant’s business, of which the complainant was the sole director, and that it was reasonable to assume she would have had sight of this correspondence and the opportunity to respond. The publication provided the email it had sent to the complainant’s company and addressed to Mr Dizaei which included a number of questions and stated that the journalist had seen “the two minutes and eight seconds’ long corporate video advertising your involvement in Covert Security Ltd and which I am aware you have shown to a number of prospective clients”. It added that the Editors’ Code makes no blanket requirement for people mentioned in articles to be given the opportunity to comment and that the article did not contain any significant inaccuracies that the complainant needed to respond to.
9. The publication said that the complainant was relevant to the story, and that there was no breach of Clause 9; it said that its legal team considered the article prior to publication in relation to its obligations both legally and under the Editors’ Code. It said that it was reporting about Covert Security and the video it had produced, and that as sole director of Covert Security, the complainant was genuinely relevant to the story. The publication went on to explain that it considered that it was relevant to explain that Mr Dizaei had previously been the director of Covert Security, but that this responsibility now lay with the complainant. It added that in relation to the complainant’s husband’s convictions, the identification of the complainant was already in the public domain. The publication further said that the complainant was genuinely relevant to the story because a focus of the article was the financial success of the complainant’s husband and Covert Security despite Mr Dizaei’s previous convictions, and that the complainant’s publicly available social media profile showed their wealth and glamourous lifestyle
10. The publication said that while the complainant was concerned with the description of her as having a “penchant” for designer clothing, this did not engage the terms of Clause 2 as it did not reveal anything private about her. The publication added that the complainant acknowledged she did not have any privacy settings on her social media accounts. It also noted that the complainant had not said that by reporting on the contents of the original video this revealed anything private about her. The publication added that the allegation that the publication was not lawfully in possession of the video did not engage the terms of Clause 2.
11. In relation to Clause 3, the publication said that this was not engaged. It said that Clause 3 relates to contacts from journalists, not the frequency or the tone of coverage.
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 2 (Privacy)*
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental health, and correspondence, including digital communications.
ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.
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.
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.
Findings of the Committee
12. The complainant said that the article was in breach of Clause 1 as it incorrectly suggested that the video referred to in the piece had been released by the company and was publicly available. The article had referred to the video throughout as a “corporate video”; however, the Committee noted that it did not claim that the video had been released by Covert Security, or that it was publicly available on the company’s website. In addition, the Committee noted that the article had described the video as having “emerged”, rather than being released. The complainant had said that the video had been circulated to a number of friends, family and business associates, and the publication had said that this included prospective clients. Where the complainant had acknowledged that the video had been circulated to a group of contacts, albeit a limited group, and that the newspaper said that this included prospective clients, it was the Committee’s view that there was a sufficient basis to describe it as a corporate video. The article did not inaccurately suggest that the video had been publicly available or that it had been released and, as such, there was no breach of Clause 1.
13. The complainant further said that Clause 1 had been breached as the article omitted to mention the final version of the video which was publicly available. The Committee noted that publications have the right to choose which pieces of information they publish, as long as this does not lead to a breach of the Code. In this case, it did not consider the omission of reference to a different version of the video rendered the article inaccurate or misleading, where the focus of the article was specifically on the original version of the video which had, to some extent, been in circulation. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
14. The complainant had also said that she had not had an opportunity to comment and respond to the inaccuracies within the article, in breach of Clause 1. The Committee accepted the publication’s position that, as the journalist had contacted the complainant’s business, it was reasonable to assume she would have been made aware of this correspondence and had the opportunity to respond, should she have wished to do so. In any event, the Committee noted there is no obligation imposed by the Editors’ Code for newspapers to approach individuals for comment prior to their inclusion in an article. Rather, Clause 1(i) requires publication to “take care” not to publish inaccurate or misleading information; in some instances, a publication will need to put allegations to an individual in order to meet this obligation, but this will not be necessary in all cases. In this instance, as no significant inaccuracies were identified within the article, the Committee did not consider that it was necessary for the publication to have approached the complainant for comment. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
15. The Committee next considered the complainant’s concerns that there had been a breach of Clause 9. The complainant had said that she should not have been considered as relevant to the article or to her husband’s spent conviction. Clause 9 prevents the identification of relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime in circumstances where they are not genuinely relevant to the story. In this instance, the focus of the article was on the video created by Covert Security, the complainant’s company, and of which her husband was the founder and now an employee. In these circumstances, the Committee considered the complainant was genuinely relevant to the story. There was no breach of Clause 9.
16. The complainant had considered there had been a further breach of Clause 9 as she considered the article suggested that her and her family were making “ill-gotten gains” and that it was a breach of Clause 9 to refer to her husband’s spent conviction. These were issues which did not relate to the terms of the clause and the Committee noted that concerns relating to an alleged breach of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 did not fall within its remit.
17. The Committee next turned to the complainant’s concerns that Clause 2 had been breached; the complainant had considered that there had been a breach of Clause 2 as her social media accounts should not have been used for the article. She also considered the article should not have described her as having a “penchant” for designer clothing. The Committee noted that the complainant’s social media account was publicly available and followed by a large number of other accounts, and it did not consider she had a reasonable expectation of privacy over the pictures and information published through this channel. In addition, the complainant’s concern with the description of her as having a “penchant” for designer clothing did not reveal anything of a private nature about the complainant and reflected the journalist’s observations of publicly available material. There was no breach of Clause 2 on these points.
18. In relation to Clause 2, the complainant had also expressed concerns that the video had not been publicly available, and that she considered the publication’s possession of it was not lawful. The Committee noted the complainant’s concerns but wished to make clear that it was not for IPSO to make a ruling on the legality of the newspaper’s actions; this would be a matter for the courts. Rather, the Committee’s role was to consider concerns within the framework of the Editors’ Code of Practice. While the complainant was concerned that the video had been mentioned in the article, she had not said that this coverage revealed any private information about her. It was the Committee’s view that where this was a video relating to her business – made with the ultimate intention of wider dissemination – and did not relate to the complainant’s private life, and which had been circulated to a number of contacts already, this was not material over which the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy. There was no breach of Clause 2.
19. Clause 3 generally relates to the way journalists behave when gathering news, including the nature and extent of their contacts with the subject of the story. The complainant’s concerns under Clause 3 did not relate to this and the terms of the Clause were not engaged.
20. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 11/11/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 17/06/2022