Ruling

00627-22 Doe v You (The Mail on Sunday)

    • Date complaint received

      22nd September 2022

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 00627-22 Doe v You (The Mail on Sunday)

Summary of Complaint

1. Andrew Doe complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that You (The Mail on Sunday) breached Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “In which I’m told I neglect my dogs”, and a podcast of the same name, published on 23 January 2022 and 21 January 2022 respectively.

2. The article under complaint was a ‘diary’ piece by a well-known columnist. The article discussed her “New Year break” and the care the writer had taken of her horses and dogs. The writer said they “got a text, forwarded to me by Stef, the woman who organised the rescue of [the writer’s dog] from Romania. It was from a man. [The complainant]. His real name, I wonder? He wrote…‘Dear Stef. can I ask, when you arranged for [the writer], the Mail on Sunday journalist, you were aware of her past history of having such animals. One eviscerated a sheep. Her dogs are so badly house trained, they are barely trained at all. She’s given to leaving them in cars on a hot day’”. The article said the complainant “went on. And on” and the writer was “so upset that [they] could lose” their dog.

3. The article also appeared online under the headline “Liz Jones's Diary: In which I’m told I neglect my dogs”.

4. The podcast involved the columnist and their assistant “dissect[ing] [their] weekly YOU magazine diary”. During this, the columnist said, “I got a text from Stef the woman who organised the rescue of Teddy from Romania. It was from a man. [The complainant]. Probably not his real name. He wrote, to Stef, he wrote her a letter, ‘Dear Stef. can I ask, when you arranged for Liz Jones, the Mail on Sunday journalist, whether you were aware of her past history of having animals. One eviscerated a sheep. Her dogs are so badly behaved, they are barely trained at all. She leaves them alone in a car on a hot day…’”.

5. The complainant said that the article and podcast breached Clause 2 (Privacy) because they included his name and the content of private messages that he had sent to a third party who was not a journalist. He said he had sent a Facebook message to the owner of a dog rescue organisation via her business page and that she had assured him that she did not pass on his name to the columnist. He further stated that, whilst he had discussed his intention to send such a message with his friends, he had not shared the message with anyone before it appeared in the article. The complainant said that members of an online forum had been able to find his email address, website, and photos of him from the information in the article.

6. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It stated that the complainant did not know the owner of the animal rescue centre and did not follow the organisation’s Facebook page. By sending a message to a stranger, the publication argued the complainant had lost control over what could happen with it. It said, in addition, that the message did not contain private information about the complainant, but instead contained serious allegations about the columnist, with whom he was also not personally acquainted. The publication said that the columnist was allowed to defend herself against such allegations and did so via the article and podcast. Where the content of the message was not private and where it was sent to a stranger through a Facebook page, the publication said there was no reasonable expectation of privacy. It said the complainant’s name was given to the journalist by someone who was aware of the situation. It did not want to name that individual as it did not think it was fair for their name to be disclosed to the complainant as they were not a journalist and not subject to the investigation.

Relevant Code Provisions

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.

Findings of the Committee

7. The Committee had regard for the terms of Clause 2 (i), which specifically referenced respect for an individual’s digital communications. The question for the Committee was, therefore, whether the article, in reporting the content of a message sent by the complainant to a third party via Facebook and identifying him as the sender, had disclosed information over which the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy.

8. In this instance, the correspondence had been sent by the complainant to a business page run by someone whom he did not know personally and contained allegations about a third party – the columnist. The owner of the business page was not known to the complainant and the correspondence had not been identified as private; this did not, therefore, amount to personal, private communication over which the complainant would have a reasonable expectation of privacy. In addition, the message contained allegations about the columnist and did not contain any information about the complainant that could be considered personal or private. The Committee concluded, therefore, there was no reasonable expectation of privacy over the message and there was no breach of Clause 2 in relation to its publication in the article or its inclusion in the podcast.

Conclusion(s)

9. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

10. N/A


Date complaint received: 24/01/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 05/09/2022