Ruling

00866-17 Beckwith v The Sunday People

    • Date complaint received

      22nd June 2017

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 10 Clandestine devices and subterfuge, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 00866-17 Beckwith v The Sunday People

Summary of complaint

1. Anthony Beckwith complained on his own behalf and on behalf of Thomas Chipperfield Snr that The Sunday People breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in articles headlined “End cruelty to circus Big Cats NOW”, published on 8 January 2017, “Louis backs ban on circus animals”, published on 15 January 2017, and “Sir Roger hits back on ‘hypocrisy’ jibe”, published on 15 January.  The articles were also published online with the headlines “Lions and tigers in cramped conditions next to busy motorway so join campaign to ban wild animals from circuses”, “Louis Walsh's fury at plight of lions and tigers as he backs campaign to ban wild animals in circuses”, and “Roger Moore hits back at animal rights criticism after lion tamer accuses him of double standards over Octopussy role.”

2. The first article reported that three tigers and two lions were being kept in “cramped cages” on a lorry next to one of Britain’s busiest motorways. It said that the animals were seen “huddled up against the cold”, and that the spirits of the animals had been broken “by their miserable conditions”. It reported that the animals were “confined to grubby trailers and only let occasionally to stretch their legs in a large wired cage, and said that “bedraggled horses” were also wandering around the site. The article included comment from the complainant, who said that the circus had never been refused a licence, and said that it had created an environment which allowed the animals to thrive. The article was accompanied by photographs of the site where the animals were kept.

3. The second article reported Louis Walsh and Katya Edwards’ support for the newspaper’s campaign to ban wild animals in circuses. The third article reported Sir Roger Moore’s response to the accusation of hypocrisy by Thomas Chipperfield. He said that “trying to justify the cruel treatment of animals today because a circus tiger appeared in Octopussy in 1983 – long before the abusive treatment of animals in the entertainment industry was exposed – speaks volumes about Mr Chipperfield’s character.” He also said: “Call it a day, Mr Chipperfield. The curtain’s down, house lights are up and the audience has left the building”.

4. The online articles were substantively similar to the versions that appeared in print.

5. The complainant, a co-owner of the circus, said that it was inaccurate to report that the animals were living in “cramped” conditions. He said that the circus was strictly regulated, and had been visited three times recently, on one occasion without notice, for the renewal of their licence under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act. He said that if the animals’ conditions had been considered “cramped”, the circus would not have passed the inspection, and that the circus had 64 square metres of indoor space, and 232 square metres of outdoor space, for five animals, which is in excess of the recommended space. He also said it was misleading to suggest that the animals had their spirits broken, and endured “miserable living conditions”.

6. The complainant said that it was inaccurate to report that the animals were “confined to grubby trailers and only let out occasionally to stretch their legs in a large wired cage”. He said that the animals are mucked out and cleaned on a daily basis, and their enclosures are filled with logs, branches, balls and “a platform for added enrichment and mental stimuli”. It said that each animal gets at least six hours outside per day. The complainant said that horses mentioned in the article were not owned by the circus.

7. The complainant said that it was inaccurate to report that Government officials who conducted an inspection 18 months ago said the animals should be moved to separate pens if they went on tour; he said that while they were required to add additional sleeping space if they were on tour, they had not been told to build new pens. He said that the article failed to make clear that the circus was licensed, was inspected by zoo vets, and that no official concerns had been raised. He also said that the published photographs gave the misleading impression that the space the animals enjoyed was smaller than it actually was because of the angle the photographs were taken from.

8. The complainant said the photographs were taken from the circus’s private land, which represented an intrusion into the complainant’s privacy, as well as that of Thomas Chipperfield Snr, who featured in one of the photographs. He also said that the publication of the location where the animals were kept was a breach of privacy, and had resulted in putting the personal safety of staff and the animals at risk. He also said that photographs published alongside the second article were taken from the middle of a hedge surrounding the property in circumstances of subterfuge.

9. The newspaper said that the article was part of the newspaper’s support for the campaign run by PETA, the RSPCA and Animal Defenders International (ADI) to ban wild animals from circuses. The newspaper said that the description of the site in the article was based on ADI’s visit last August, a subsequent YouTube video, and the photographs taken by the newspaper. It said that the word “cramped” in the context of the article was a relative term; it said that any lion or tiger housed in a cage in freezing UK weather would be properly described as cramped compared to the vast open plains of the Serengeti, or the tiger reserves of the National Parks Karnataka.

10. The newspaper said that the article did not suggest that the circus did not have a licence, or had conducted any illegal activity; it said that the article reported both the complainant and Mr Chipperfield’s position that the circus “has never been refused a licence”. It said that it did not consider that the article was misleading because it did not set out that the circus had been visited by zoo vets. It also said that the article highlighted the opinions of Sir Roger Moore, PETA, the RSPCA, and ADI that regardless of any existing license, the conditions are not suitable for animals being kept there.

11. The newspaper said that the photographer did not enter the property, and was not hiding in the hedge taking the photograph. It said that he was walking on a public footpath, and provided a map of the footpath, and highlighted the positions where the photographs were taken from. It said that Mr Chipperfield Senior was photographed from a public location, and the photograph did not reveal any private information about him.

Relevant Code Provisions

12. 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.

v) A publication must report fairly and accurately the outcome of an action for defamation to which it has been a party, unless an agreed settlement states otherwise, or an agreed statement is published.

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 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge)

i) The press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices; or by intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, messages or emails; or by the unauthorised removal of documents or photographs; or by accessing digitally-held information without consent.

ii) Engaging in misrepresentation or subterfuge, including by agents or intermediaries, can generally be justified only in the public interest and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means.

Findings of the Committee

13. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that it would not have been awarded a licence under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act had the animals been kept in “cramped” conditions. However, the term “cramped” has an ordinary meaning, as well as the definition provided by the complainant. In this instance, the Committee did not consider that it was misleading to characterise the living conditions of the animals as cramped, particularly in circumstances where, as the newspaper had argued, they could be properly described as cramped when compared to the open spaces in which these animals  naturally live. There was no breach of Clause 1.

14. In addition, where the article included the complainant’s position that the circus had never been refused a licence, the omission of any reference to the circus holding a licence, being regularly visited by zoo vets, and the absence of official concerns being raised by the authorities about the circus, did not make the article inaccurate or misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1.

15. Under the terms of Clause 1(iv), newspapers are free to editorialise and campaign. The article’s description of the animals having “their spirits broken”, and enduring “miserable conditions”, was the newspaper’s characterisation of the living conditions, and demeanour, of the animals. In circumstances where the newspaper had observed these conditions over a period of time, and outlined in detail the conditions in which they were kept, it did not consider that it was misleading to characterise the animals’ demeanour, and their living conditions, as it had. There was no breach of Clause 1.

16. The complainant said that the animals were allowed outside for at least six hours per day, which made it inaccurate to report that they were only let out “occasionally to stretch their legs in a large wired cage”. However, where the complainant did not dispute that the animals were enclosed for most of the day, it did not consider that it was significantly misleading to characterise this situation as the animals being allowed outside “occasionally”. There was no breach of Clause 1.

17. The complainant did not dispute that the circus had been told it needed to make some changes to the living conditions of the animals before they could be taken on tour. While the complainant said that this had now been done, it was not misleading for the newspaper to report that an inspection had found that “the animals should be moved into different pens, if they were to go on tour”. While there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point, the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s offer to add a line to the article making clear the complainant’s position that the circus now had the appropriate licence to tour, having made the changes highlighted during the inspection.

18. The photographs published of the animals’ living conditions enabled the reader to form an opinion of the animals’ living conditions. This did not represent a breach of Clause 1. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that while there were horses on the site, they did not belong to the circus. The Committee considered that any suggestion that the circus was responsible for the horses was not a significant claim in the context of the article as a whole, and this aspect of the complaint did not represent a breach of Clause 1.

19. The Committee was unable to reconcile the accounts provided by both parties as to where the photographs had been taken from. However, it did not consider that the photographs revealed any information in relation to which complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy. In relation to the photograph featuring Mr Chipperfield Snr, the Committee considered that where he was not the main focus of the photograph, and his likeness was sufficiently obscured in the image, he did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. In any event, any expectation of privacy he might have in these particular circumstances was outweighed by the public interest in showing the conditions in which the animals lived. There was no breach of Clause 2.

20. There was no evidence to suggest that the terms of Clause 10 had been engaged by the photographer’s conduct, and the Committee did not establish a breach of Clause 10.

Conclusions

21. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

22. N/A

Date complaint received: 02/02/2017
Date complaint concluded: 01/06/2017