Ruling

01029-19 A woman v Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser

    • Date complaint received

      14th June 2019

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 11 Victims of sexual assault, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 01029-19 A woman v Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser

Summary of complaint

1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article published in 2019.

2. This decision is written in general terms, to avoid the inclusion of information which could identify a victim of sexual assault.

3. On its front page, the newspaper reported that an individual had received a custodial sentence after being convicted of sexual offences against two children; it reported that the offences had taken place over ten years ago. It reported witness evidence heard in court regarding the location in which the offences took place; it disclosed both the complainant’s and the defendant’s association with that location. The article set out the period of time over which these offences had occurred, the age of the victims during that time, and their ages now.

4. The article was also published online, in substantially the same form, on the same day. The online article did not report the victims’ current ages.

5. The complainant said that the article had contained details which had identified her as a victim of sexual assault; she said that, in fact, she had been identified as the victim in the case by members of her local community. The complainant also said that the disclosure of this information was deeply upsetting and an unjustified intrusion into her privacy, in breach of Clause 2.

6. The complainant said that the article was an inaccurate report of the evidence heard in court.  She said that contrary to the article’s claim, she had not “fled to a neighbour’s [house]” twice following two separate incidents; in fact, she only went there once following the first incident.

7. The newspaper expressed regret that the article had caused the complainant upset and distress, but said that it took care to remove any excessive information that was heard in court which might likely to lead to identification.  It said that it was entitled to report court proceedings held in public, in the public interest. The publication provided explanations as to why it did not believe that the information identified by the complainant were likely to contribute to her identification.

8. The newspaper said that the journalist had attended court, and upon writing the story two consecutive incidents recorded accurately in their notes were conflated into one. The publication did not accept that this error was a significant inaccuracy, however as a gesture of goodwill, it offered to publish the following correction on p.2 of the print edition. The publication also removed the online article.

In our article [headline], we reported that a young victim of sexual assault fled to a neighbours twice after she had been attacked on two separate occasions. We are happy to clarify that the victim only fled to a neighbours on one of these occasions.

Relevant Code provisions

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.

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 11 (Victims of sexual assault)

The press must not identify or publish material likely to lead to the identification of a victim of sexual assault unless there is adequate justification and they are legally free to do so.

Finding of the Committee

9. It is a fundamental principle of open justice that court proceedings are reported by the media in an open and transparent way. Both the law and the Code requires that, when upholding this fundamental principle in cases involving sexual assault, a publication must not publish material likely to lead to the identification of the victim. The article had disclosed information heard in court regarding the circumstances in which the offences had occurred. This included the location in which the offences had taken place and the defendant and the complainant’s association with that location. The Committee considered that the combination of these particular details, alongside the period of time in which the offences had occurred, and the ages of the victims, represented information which would be known to the complainant’s community, particularly those who knew the defendant and the complainant, and was likely to lead to her identification as a victim in the case. The complaint was therefore upheld as a breach of Clause 11.

10. The Committee acknowledged that the publication of the details subject to complaint had caused the complainant distress. This information was a matter of public record, having been disclosed during the course of open court proceedings; in accordance with the fundamental principle of open justice, the publication of this information did not represent a breach of Clause 2, leaving aside the issues that arose under Clause 11.

11. It was inaccurate to report that the court had heard that the complainant had fled to a neighbour’s house on two separate occasions, however, it did not represent a significant inaccuracy given that the complainant had fled to a neighbours on one occasion. While this error did not represent a breach of Clause 1, given the sensitivity of the complaint, the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s offer to publish a correction.

Conclusion

12. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial Action required

13. Having upheld the complaint under Clause 11, the appropriate remedy was the publication of an adjudication.

14. The Committee considered the placement of its adjudication. In exercising its powers to determine the nature, extent and placement of a remedy to a breach of the Code that it has established, the Committee will have regard to a number of factors including the seriousness of the breach, its placement within the article, and its prominence. The Committee is also obliged to act proportionately. The article was published on the newspaper’s front page, however the details which were likely to contribute to the identification of the complainant as the victim in the case had appeared on p.2. The newspaper was entitled to report on the court case but had failed to comply with its obligations under Clause 11. In this instance, the adjudication should be published on p.2 where the material found to be in breach of the Code had appeared. The headline to the adjudication should make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint, give the title of the newspaper and refer to the complaint’s subject matter. The headline must be agreed with IPSO in advance.

15. The adjudication should also be published on the newspaper’s website, with a link to the full adjudication (including the headline) appearing in the top 50% of stories on the publication’s website for 24 hours; it should then be archived in the usual way. The terms of the adjudication for publication are as follows:

A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser breached Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article published in print and online in 2019. Clause 11 of the Code requires that the press must not identify victims of sexual assault or publish material likely to lead to such identification unless there is adequate justification and they are legally free to do so. IPSO upheld the complaint and has required the Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser to publish this decision as a remedy to the breach.

The article reported that an individual had received a custodial sentence after being convicted of sexual offences against two children.

The complainant said that the article had contained details which had identified her as a victim of sexual assault.

The newspaper said that the details reported in the article were necessary in order to enable the public to understand the facts of the offence. It provided explanations as to why it did not believe that the details in the article were likely to contribute to the identification of the victim.

The Committee made clear that it is a fundamental principle of open justice that court proceedings are reported on by the media in an open and transparent way. Both the law and the Code requires that, when upholding this fundamental principle in cases involving sexual assault, a publication must not publish material likely to contribute to the identification of the victim. The article had disclosed information heard in court regarding the circumstances in which the offences had occurred. This included the location in which the offences had taken place, and the defendant and the complainant’s association with that location. The Committee considered that the combination of these particular details, alongside the period of time in which the offences had occurred, and  the ages of the victims, represented information which would only be known to the complainant’s community, and was likely to lead to her identification as a victim in the case. The complaint was therefore upheld as a breach of Clause 11.

Date complaint received: 24/01/2019

Date decision issued: 09/05/2019