Ruling

01326-14 Allen v The Sunday Times Magazine

    • Date complaint received

      25th March 2015

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 01326-14 Allen v The Sunday Times Magazine

Summary of complaint 

1. Penny Allen complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sunday Times had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “File under friction”, published 31 August 2014. 

2. The newspaper had published an interview with the complainant’s former husband about a novel he had written set partially in the family courts. In the interview, he had discussed his own experience with the family courts as a result of the legal disputes he had with the complainant. 

3. The complainant explained that she was the subject of court orders which prevented her from responding to claims made by her former husband regarding their experience with the family courts. The complainant was concerned that her former husband had said that he had never spoken publicly about the proceedings, and had never wanted the press to be involved in the matter. She said that this was inaccurate; he had spoken to the press on a number of occasions. In addition, the complainant was concerned that the article had quoted from a judgement about her, without making clear that she had complained about the judge in question, although her complaint had been ignored. 

4. She said it was misleading of her former husband to say that the case had “floated” between courts, and that he had been dissatisfied with the children and family court advisory support service. She also said that the article had inaccurately referred to her as a “spiritual healer”, rather than a freelance writer. 

5. The article had been illustrated with a photograph of the complainant and her partner wearing gags. The photograph’s caption said: “…They wore gags to protest against an order banning them from talking about proceedings”. The complainant said that, in fact, the orders prevented them from speaking about a number of things, which went beyond the proceedings. 

6. The newspaper said that the complainant’s concerns related to issues arising out of lengthy litigation between the complainant and her ex-husband. It said that it would not be possible to ascertain what the exact factual position was on a number of the points raised as there were continuing injunctions which apparently prevented the complainant from disclosing information relating to the proceedings. 

7. The newspaper made clear that the article was not a piece of investigative journalism; it was an interview with an author about the subject of his book and how it touched on his life experiences. The article made clear that the comments represented his personal views. In this context, the article did not require the level of forensic analysis which the complainant had carried out when considering the coverage. 

8. The newspaper said that the article had not been significantly inaccurate in its referral to the complainant’s former husband having “never spoken about the case”. The author had meant that he had never spoken in detail about the matter. 

9. The newspaper said that it had not been obliged to refer to the complainant’s complaint to the Lord Chancellor about the judge’s behaviour. As the complaint was evidently not upheld, it was not relevant. 

10. The newspaper provided an article from 1999 which reported that the complainant had described herself as a “trained spiritual counsellor and healer”, and quoted extracts from her book on spirituality “The Face of the Deep”. It did not accept that the reference to the complainant as a “spiritual healer” had been significantly misleading. 

11. The caption to the photograph had used the term “proceedings” to refer to all matters the injunctions had been designed to cover, all of which appeared to have arisen out of the divorce and subsequent family proceedings. 

Relevant Code Provisions

12. Clause 1 (Accuracy) 

(i) The press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures. 

(ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published. 

Findings of the Committee

13. In the interview, the complainant’s former husband had spoken briefly about his experience with the courts, and how that had influenced his work. The article had not presented a detailed account of his dispute with the complainant, nor had it focused on the proceedings. In these circumstances, the decision to report his personal views, without having approached the complainant for comment prior to publication, did not represent a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article. 

14. The interviewee had expressed his view that he had not wanted the press to be involved in his legal disputes; that he had not discussed the matter publicly; and that there had been problems with the process. While the complainant strongly disagreed with these claims, they had been attributed to the complainant’s former husband, and represented one side of an acrimonious dispute. There had not been a failure to distinguish comment from fact, and the publication of his personal views, and his own account of his conduct, had not been significantly misleading. 

15. The newspaper had been entitled to publish the comments made by the judge about the complainant. In circumstances in which the complainant accepted that her complaint against the judge had not been upheld, the omission of information regarding her complaint had not been significantly misleading. 

16. The photograph’s caption had briefly summarised the complainant’s protest. In these circumstances, the omission of further information regarding the orders had not represented a significant inaccuracy. There was no breach of the Code on this point. 

17. In the context of an interview with the complainant’s former husband about his book, the reference to the complainant as a “spiritualist healer” had not been a significant detail such as to require correction under the terms of the Code. 

Conclusions

18. The complaint was not upheld. 

Remedial Action Required

N/A 

Date complaint received: 11/10/2014

Date decision issued: 25/03/2015