Decision of the Complaints Committee 19501-17 Ireland v Evening
Summary of complaint
1. Christopher Ireland complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Evening Telegraph (Dundee) breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined, “Hotel bins conman’s Jersey Boys bash/ Serial conman’s posh hotel show cancelled as shady past emerges” published in print on 14 October 2017.
2. The print article reported that a Dundee hotel had cancelled a Jersey Boys event being organised by the complainant, after they became aware of his previous convictions for fraud. The article reported that the complainant, had been “banned from being a company director for seven years following a probe by the Insolvency Service” and stated that the complainant “says he’s a doctor with a PhD.” The article included a quotation from the spokesperson of the hotel, who said “[the hotel] has recently been made aware of historical matters relating to the organiser” and also included a quotation from the complainant, who stated the event was cancelled, “as we missed our payment and when we went to do it they said it was overtime and they have cancelled all events.” The article included two photographs of the complainant, one taken outside court and another photograph which showed the complainant’s likeness.
3. The article was also published online on 16 October 2017 with the headline “Dundee Malmaison cancels Jersey Boys show after conman organiser fails to pay bill”. The article contained much of the same information as the print article, however it also stated that the complainant’s failure to pay a bill had also influenced the hotel’s decision to cancel the event.
4. The complainant said that he believed that one of the photographs had been taken from a private Facebook folder which the newspaper was not permitted to access. He also said that the documents produced by the Insolvency Service were private, and the newspaper was not authorised to reproduce information contained in the documents without prior consent from the Insolvency Service’s press office.
5. The complainant said that it was inaccurate for the article to state he had been banned from being a company director, as he voluntarily requested the ban. He also said that the article misleadingly suggested that he did not have a PhD and had not made clear that it had been the newspaper that had informed the hotel of his previous convictions. The complainant was concerned that the newspaper had told the hotel that he would not pay his bills, and would steal ticket money.
6. He also raised concern that the article included information that had previously been reported by another publication, which was subject to legal proceedings. He said that in these circumstances, the publication of the article represented harassment in breach of Clause 3.
7. The newspaper did not accept it had breached the Code. It said that it had contacted the hotel after concerns had been raised in the local community about the complainant’s involvement with the event given his previous convictions. The newspaper said that the article did not state who had informed the hotel of the complainant’s conviction and had accurately reported that once the hotel was made aware of the complainant’s past, it cancelled the event, and included a statement from the hotel in support of this. The newspaper had added to the online article when the hotel confirmed that it had also had concerns due to the complainant’s non-payment of a bill. It said that the statement in the article regarding his PhD was a statement of fact, as they had no proof of the complainant’s qualification, it was not in a position to definitively state that he had a PhD.
8. The newspaper provided a copy of the press statement issued by the Insolvency Service in relation to the complainant’s ban. The government press release stated that the complainant had been “disqualified as a company director for seven years” which the newspaper said was accurately reported in the article. It also provided a copy of the photograph of the complainant, which had come from the newspaper’s archives as the complainant had featured in a public opinion piece in the newspaper previously. It said this photograph had not been sourced from the complainant’s social media, which the complainant accepted.
9. The newspaper said that the article was based on its own investigation and information from its archives, not a reproduction of an article by another publisher. The newspaper noted that the complainant had continued to contact the publication, requesting that it publish articles relating to other matters. It said the publication of the article did not amount to harassment.
Relevant Code Provisions
10. 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; now remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.
Findings of the Committee
11. The article had included two photographs of the complainant. One photograph had been taken outside court, and the other, it was accepted, had been sourced from the newspaper’s archives; not from the complainant’s private Facebook folder. The photographs had been used in the article to show the complaint’s likeness in relation to the article, and did not show anything private in nature about the complainant. The Committee noted that the complainant had previously consented to this photograph being published, and its re-publication, in the context of an article about his previous convictions and his involvement with the cancelled event, did not breach Clause 2.
12. The information relating to the complainant’s company directorship ban came from a publicly available press release from the Insolvency Service. This information related to on the sanction that had been imposed on the complainant by a government body, which was in the public domain. This was not private information about the complainant and the newspaper was entitled to report on it without his consent. There was no breach of Clause 2 on this point.
13. The complainant had been disqualified from being a company director for seven years, which was accurately reported in the article. Omitting the complainant’s position that he had voluntarily agreed to the ban did not make the article inaccurate or give the misleading impression the complainant suggested. Also, where the complainant does say that he holds a PhD, but the newspaper had not seen any evidence to support this position, it was not inaccurate for the article to state that he “says he is a doctor with a PhD.” This did not give the significantly misleading impression the complainant believed and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
14. The article had accurately reported that once the hotel became aware of the complainant’s previous convictions, it had cancelled the event. It had also included the complainant’s position on the reason why it had been cancelled, and the online article had been updated to also include a further detail that influenced the hotel’s decision. There was no breach of Clause 1.
15. The terms of 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 publication was entitled to report on its recent investigation, and the Committee did not find that the publication of the article amounted to harassment under the terms of Clause 3.
16. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 23/10/2017
Date decision issued: 29/01/2018