Ruling

00571-15 Thompson v Sunday Life

    • Date complaint received

      8th June 2015

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      3 Harassment, 6 Children

·     Decision of the Complaints Committee 00571-15 Thompson v Sunday Life

Summary of complaint 

1. Rev Peter Thompson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Life had breached Clause 3 (Privacy) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Tyrone cleric baffled by false gay rumours”, published on 3 February 2015. 

2. The article reported that the complainant was “baffled” by “false rumours” that he had been cautioned by police, and also that he was homosexual. 

3. The complainant said that the publication of these rumours, which were personal in nature, was a breach of his privacy. He said that he had confirmed to the newspaper prior to publication that the claims were untrue and unsubstantiated. 

4. The complainant said that the newspaper had contacted him for comment prior to publication, and had contacted the Church of Ireland Press Office to confirm the identity of the journalist before returning her call. The complainant was concerned that the newspaper had sought to use his categorical denial of the allegations in that conversation as justification for circulating them further. 

5. The complainant also said that it was unnecessary to mention that he had children, especially given the nature of the story; this breached Clause 6. 

6. The newspaper had become aware of the rumours after being contacted by an unknown source; it then followed up on the rumours with a person who was familiar with them. 

7. The newspaper said that the article was in the public interest; the complainant was a prominent local figure, and the allegation that he had a police caution was of a very serious nature. With regard to the rumours about the complainant’s sexuality, the newspaper said that the complainant had willingly responded to the journalist’s questions, following consultation with the Church of Ireland Press Office, and at no point said that his comments were not for publication. 

8. The newspaper said that the article clearly concerned the complainant’s private life, and that it would not be its usual practice to contact individuals regarding claims about their sexual orientation. However, the complainant was a prominent member of his local community, fulfilling a pastoral role, and it appeared at the time that he was the victim of a campaign. The newspaper believed that it was reasonable to conclude that the complainant wanted to take the opportunity to publicly address the claims about him. 

9. The newspaper said that it had only mentioned that the complainant was a “father of three”, and did not include any of the names or ages of his children. It said that the fact that complainant had children was not private. 

10. Nonetheless, the newspaper removed the article from its website as a gesture of goodwill. It also said that it had not wished to cause further distress to the complainant, and assured him that it would not report anything further about the matter, unless related criminal proceedings came before the courts. 

Relevant Code Provisions

11. Clause 3 (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. 

Clause 6 (Children) 

i) Young children should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion. 

Public interest 

4. The Regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain, or will become so. 

Findings of the Committee

12. Details of an individual’s sexuality form part of private and family life and as such receive protection under the terms of Clause 3 of the Editors’ Code. The complainant had not publicly disclosed the details of the rumours, which were of a personal nature, and the newspaper had become aware of them only after being contacted by an unknown source. The inclusion in the article of his denial was insufficient to justify the intrusion into the complainant’s private life caused by publication of the claims, regardless of their inaccuracy. Further, the complainant’s rebuttal of the allegations in conversation with the journalist did not constitute consent for publication under Clause 3 (ii). The newspaper breached Clause 3 of the Code. 

13. The claim in the article that the complainant had been cautioned by police did not relate to his private or family life; it did not raise a further breach of Clause 3. 

14. In mentioning that the complainant was a “father of three”, the newspaper did not intrude into his children’s time at school. There was no breach of Clause 6. 

Conclusions

15. The complaint was upheld. 

Remedial Action Required

16. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or adjudication. The Committee required the publication of this adjudication as a remedy to the breach. The original article was published on page 7; the adjudication should be published on page 7 or further forward. A link to the adjudication should also be published on the homepage of the newspaper’s website for at least 48 hours, and thereafter archived on the website in the usual way. The headline to the adjudication should include the words “IPSO complaint upheld” and make reference to the subject matter of the original article; it should be agreed with IPSO in advance. The terms of the adjudication to be published are as follows: 

Following an article published in the Sunday Life on 3 February 2015, headlined “Tyrone cleric baffled by false gay rumours”, Rev Peter Thompson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) that the Sunday Life had intruded into his private life in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. IPSO upheld the complaint and established a breach of the Editors’ Code. IPSO required the Sunday Life to publish this decision by its Complaints Committee as a remedy to the breach. 

The article reported that the complainant was “baffled” by “false rumours” that he had been cautioned by police, and also that he was homosexual. 

The complainant said that the publication of these rumours, which were personal in nature, was a breach of his privacy. He said that he had confirmed to the newspaper prior to publication that the claims were untrue and unsubstantiated. 

The complainant had been contacted for his comment prior to publication, and had contacted the Church of Ireland Press Office to confirm the identity of the journalist before returning her call. The complainant was concerned that the newspaper had sought to use his categorical denial of the allegations in that conversation as justification for circulating them further. 

The newspaper had become aware of the rumours after being contacted by an unknown source; it then followed up on the rumours with a person who was familiar with them. 

The newspaper said that the article was in the public interest: the complainant was a prominent local figure, and the allegation that he had a police caution was of a very serious nature. With regard to the rumours about the complainant’s sexuality, the newspaper said that the complainant had willingly responded to the journalist’s questions following consultation with the Church of Ireland Press Office, and at no point said that his comments were not for publication. 

The newspaper said that the article clearly concerned the complainant’s private life, and that it would not be its usual practice to contact individuals regarding claims about their sexual orientation. However, the complainant was a prominent member of his local community, fulfilling a pastoral role, and it appeared at the time that he was the victim of a campaign. The newspaper believed that it was reasonable to conclude that the complainant wanted to take the opportunity to publicly address the claims about him. 

Nonetheless, the newspaper removed the article from its website as a gesture of goodwill. It also said that it had not wished to cause further distress to the complainant, and assured him that it would not report anything further about this matter, unless related criminal proceedings came before the courts. 

IPSO’s Complaints Committee made clear that details of an individual’s sexuality form part of private and family life and as such receive protection under the terms of Clause 3 of the Editors’ Code. The complainant had not publicly disclosed the fact that rumours of a personal nature had been circulating about him, and the newspaper had become aware of them only after being contacted by an unknown source. The inclusion in the article of his denial was insufficient to justify the intrusion into the complainant’s private life caused by publication of the claims, regardless of their inaccuracy. Further, the complainant’s rebuttal of the allegations in conversation with the journalist did not constitute consent for publication under Clause 3 (ii). The newspaper breached Clause 3 of the Code. 

Date complaint received: 04/02/2015 

Date decision issued: 08/06/2015