Decision of the Complaints Committee 18680-17 Johnston v Grimsby Telegraph
Summary of complaint
1. Kit Johnston complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Grimsby Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Driver fined for parking coach on school trip inches over white line” published on 23 September 2017.
2. The article reported that a coach driver had been issued with a fine “for parking inches over the white line” of a coach only parking bay at the Grimsby Fishing Heritage Centre. The article included an interview with the coach driver, who said that there were 26 empty spaces in the car park at the time, and commented “it’s a coach parking bay, I don’t really see where else you could park.” The article went on to report that staff from the Heritage Centre had told the newspaper that “the space is free to park in for coaches, and that a fine should only be issued if the vehicle isn’t parked correctly in the space.” It also included a comment from the owner of the coach company, who said that the company had never received a ticket while parked in a coach bay. It also stated that the newspaper had contacted the council for comment.
3. The article also appeared online headlined “Driver fined for parking school trip coach inches over line in deserted Grimsby car park.” The online article was substantially the same as the one that appeared in print.
4. The complainant was the traffic attendant who had issued the ticket. He said that the article was inaccurate, as the ticket had not been issued for parking outside the bay, but for being parked in a car park without clearly displaying a valid pay and display ticket. He said that this was clearly stated on the ticket, and said that council parking documentation did not state that it was free for coaches to park in this location. He said that he had spoken to his manager at the time of issuing the ticket, who did not know of any rule that meant parking was free for coaches at this location, and there was no contractual agreement with the council supporting this.
5. The complainant also said that a photograph that was posted as part of a montage on the newspaper’s homepage and social media account was a breach of his privacy. The photograph showed the complainant issuing the ticket by the coach. He said this had led to him feeling harassed on social media and at work, as people were able to recognise him.
6. The newspaper did not accept that it had breached the Code. It said that its office overlooked the carpark and as such staff were aware that it was free for coaches to park there. It also said that prior to publication, front of house staff at the Heritage Centre confirmed that parking was free for coaches and the only reason a parking ticket would be issued is due to a vehicle not being parked correctly in the bay. The newspaper provided a link to the website of the Heritage Centre, which stated that parking was free for coaches. It also said it had phoned the Council prior to publication, who did not correct the newspaper’s position on why the ticket had been issued, and agreed to send over a comment. The Council then provided a statement after the article had been published, in which the Council said it sympathised with the driver, and that if he felt he had been incorrectly issued with a ticket, he should formally challenge the decision, and provided details of how he may do this.
7. The newspaper said that at no stage had the Council told the newspaper that the ticket had not been issued for parking outside the bay, or informed the newspaper that coaches were required to pay for parking at the centre, which was confirmed by the Council in writing after publication. The journalist had interviewed the driver, and confirmed with the coach company that it regularly used this car park, without displaying a ticket and had not received a ticket before. The newspaper said that the article reported the driver’s position that the ticket could only have been issued for parking over the line. It said that given the fact that the front of the coach did extend slightly beyond the coach bay into an ordinary car bay, it was reasonable for the publication to infer that the failure to make payment related to the car parking space that the coach extended into. During the course of the complaint, the complainant had explained that the ticket had a code and the reason for issue on it, which stated that it had been issued for failure to display a valid ticket, which he said related to the coach bay. When the newspaper became aware of the complainant’s position, it offered to publish the following correction in the newspaper’s correction and clarification column on page 4 and as a footnote to the online article:
“In reference to a previous article on 23 September 2017 ‘Driver fined for parking coach on school trip inches over white line’ we would like to make clear that although the Council have confirmed that parking for coaches is free at the Grimsby Fishing Heritage Centre, and therefore the coach was not required to display a ticket, the PCN officer has since advised that the ticket was issued for failure of payment, and not because the coach was parked over the line. We were not aware of this information previously, and apologise for any confusion caused.”
8. The newspaper said that the photograph was taken while the complainant was in a public carpark, doing his job, and in these circumstances they did not accept that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy. Furthermore, the newspaper said that the photograph did not show anything private about the complainant, as the image was blurry and he was wearing a hat and dark glasses.
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.
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 sources.
Findings of the Committee
10. At the time of publication, the newspaper understood that it was free for coaches to park at the Heritage Centre due to the personal knowledge of its staff and the previous experience of the coach driver. The newspaper had also confirmed with staff at the centre that coaches did not have to display a ticket to park there, as well as relying on information published on the website for the Heritage Centre, which was run by the Council. The reporter had visited the car park to interview the driver, and had seen that the front of the coach did extend into a car parking space. Given the nature of the claims, the Committee found that there was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the claim that this was the reason the driver had received a ticket. There was no breach of Clause 1(i).
11. Regardless, during the complaints process the complainant confirmed that he had issued the ticket for failure to make payment for the coach bay, as he did not accept that it was contractually agreed that it was free for coaches to park in the car park. Where the article had reported, at length, that the coach had received a ticket for being parked outside the designated bay, which was not the reason the ticket had been issued, this represented a significant inaccuracy in these circumstances, due to the prominence of this claim. The Committee considered that the newspaper had promptly offered to publish a correction, in its regular corrections and clarifications column, which was sufficiently prominent. The proposed correction acknowledged the significant inaccuracy, and made the correct position clear. This correction should now be published.
12. The photograph was taken in a public place and showed the complainant performing a public function. He did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in these circumstances, and the photograph did not reveal anything private about the complainant. There was no breach of Clause 2.
13. Clause 3 generally relates to the conduct of journalists during the newsgathering process, and is designed to protect individuals from unwanted or repeated approaches by the press. The complainant’s concern that the publication of his photograph had led to him feeling harassed by the public did not represent a breach of Clause 3.
14. The complaint was not upheld.
Date complaint received: 24/09/2017
Date decision issued: 25/01/2018