Ruling

01450-16 Miscavige v Mail Online

    • Date complaint received

      19th July 2016

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 01450-16 Miscavige v Mail Online

Summary of complaint

1. David Miscavige complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Exclusive: inside the ‘bromance’ of Tom Cruise and Scientology founder David Miscavige: How they gamble and smoke cigars together and share a special language – but Miscavige secretly recorded the movie star”, published on 2 December 2015.

2. The article reported details of “exclusive interviews” with former members of the Church of Scientology, which concerned Tom Cruise and his relationship with the complainant, the leader of the Church of Scientology.

3. The article said that Gold Base, the Church headquarters, had been Mr Cruise’s “home from home”, and that he had been treated like “Scientology royalty”. It said that a field had been sown with wild flowers to create a meadow for him, and it detailed the efforts the Church had gone to in order to “impress” Mr Cruise’s friend, a footballer, including by “laser levelling a field” to create a football pitch. It also described an occasion when the complainant and Mr Cruise was alleged to have returned from a Las Vegas gambling trip with “bundles of cash”.

4. In addition, the article reported that Gary Morehead, former head of security at Gold Base, had claimed that the complainant had arranged for secret cameras to be installed to record members of the Church, including Mr Cruise. The article also reported that several former members of the Church had made allegations that they had been required to live in poor conditions.

5. The complainant said that the publication had relied on sources who were “disaffected former members”, none of whom had contemporaneous knowledge of the Church. He said the allegations contained in the article had already been disproved or denied, and the publication had failed to report this. Further, several of the allegations had been put to his representatives in advance, and the publication had been informed that that they were completely untrue and should not be published.

6. He said the publication had inaccurately reported that members of the Church had been filmed secretly. In fact, auditing sessions were recorded with members’ knowledge and consent, and the footage was only used as a training aid for prospective auditors.

7. He denied that a field had been “laser levelled out” to impress Mr Cruise’s friend.  That friendship only began in 2003, several years after the publication’s sources were dismissed from the Church.

8. In addition, the allegation that a field had been sown with wild flowers for Mr Cruise had been disproved more than 20 years previously. He said that one of the publication’s sources was on record confirming that “the wildflower planting never occurred”.

9. The complainant also denied the report that he and Mr Cruise had returned from a Las Vegas gambling trip with “bundles of cash”, and that they lived in luxury on the base while others worked in harsh conditions.

10. The publication said that the complaint fell outside IPSO’s remit: the individuals mentioned in the article – with the exception of the footballer – were American; the events had taken place in America; and the piece was commissioned, written and edited by journalists working for its US division. The story had therefore been written to comply with American law and journalistic conventions, not the British Editors’ Code of Practice. In light of this, it declined to defend its story in response to IPSO’s investigation.

11. Before IPSO’s involvement in the matter, the publication informed the complainant that Mr Morehead had told its writer that the complainant had asked him to put a second secret set of cameras in an auditing room, and he had done so. The allegation that the complainant had secretly recorded Mr Cruise was supported by Mr Cruise’s former auditor, and by sources relied upon by the magazine Vanity Fair in a report on Scientology that it published in 2012.

12. The publication said that the story that a field was levelled to impress the footballer was based on information provided by Mr Cruise and the complainant’s former chef. The claim was also supported by Mr Morehead. The fact they were not members of the Church at that time did not mean that they could not have known what had occurred. Similarly, the report about a meadow of wild flowers was confirmed by two former Scientologists, and had been told by a number of former high-ranking members of the Church; it was a story that was well known to the general public. It considered that the source who had previously denied the story had been acting as a spokesperson for the Church at that time. The report concerning the treatment of staff on the base came from three trusted sources, all of whom were former Scientologists.

13. The publication told IPSO that it had contacted the complainant for comment in advance of publication, but had been provided with a response that was “unpublishable”. In response to the direct complaint, the publication had amended the article to include the complainant’s denial.

Relevant Code provisions

14. 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. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance.

iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Note

15. IPSO did not accept the publication’s assertions regarding jurisdiction, and the publication was therefore obliged to demonstrate it had fulfilled its obligations under the Editors’ Code. The publication however maintained its position on jurisdiction throughout IPSO’s investigation; the Committee adjudicated on the complaint on this basis.

Findings of the Committee

16.  The publication had failed to demonstrate that it had complied with its obligations under Clause 1 of the Code.

17.  While it had published accounts provided by former members of the Church of Scientology, and attributed them accordingly, it had not demonstrated the process by which it had regard for the complainant’s previous denials of the allegations, and nor had it explained why it had failed to include his representative’s position, explained prior to publication, that the allegations which had been put to him were untrue. As such, the Committee was unable to conclude that the steps taken prior to publication showed that Mail Online had taken care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information.

18.  Furthermore, the complainant had contended that the article had contained inaccuracies which – on their face – could have been significant. Where the publication had not provided a defence of the accuracy of the article, or its decision not to publish a correction, the Committee could not conclude that it had complied with its obligations under Clause 1 (ii). The complaint under Clause 1 was upheld.

Conclusions

19 The complaint was upheld.

Remedial action required

20. In circumstances where the Committee determines that there has been a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or adjudication as a remedy to the breach. In this case, the Committee determined that an adjudication was an appropriate remedy.

21. The adjudication should be published in full on Mail Online, with a link on its homepage for 24 hours; thereafter it should be archived in the usual way. The headline to the adjudication should refer to the subject matter of the article and make clear that IPSO had ruled against Mail Online in relation to the complaint; it should be agreed with IPSO in advance. The terms of the adjudication for publication are as follows:

Following the publication of an article headlined “Exclusive: inside the ‘bromance’ of Tom Cruise and Scientology founder David Miscavige”, published on 2 December 2015, David Miscavige complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy).

IPSO’s Complaints Committee upheld the complaint, and has required Mail Online to publish this adjudication.

The article reported details of “exclusive interviews” with former members of the Church of Scientology, which concerned Tom Cruise and his relationship with the complainant, the leader of the Church of Scientology. It gave details of the special treatment Mr Cruise received at Gold Base, the Scientology headquarters; reported claims that some Church members were poorly treated; and said that the complainant had arranged for cameras to be installed to secretly film members of the Church, including Mr Cruise.

The complainant said the claims made in the article had already been disproved or denied. Further, several of the allegations had been put to his representatives in advance, and the publication had been informed that that they were completely untrue and should not be published.

The publication said that the complaint fell outside IPSO’s remit: the individuals mentioned in the article were American; the events had taken place in the United States; and the piece was commissioned, written and edited by journalists working for its US division. The story had therefore been written to comply with American law and journalistic conventions, not the British Editors’ Code of Practice. In light of this, it declined to defend its story in response to IPSO’s investigation.

IPSO’s Complaints Committee found that Mail Online had failed to demonstrate that it had complied with its obligations under Clause 1 of the Code. It had not demonstrated the process by which it had regard for the complainant’s previous denials of the allegations, nor had it explained why it had failed to include his representative’s position, explained prior to publication, that the allegations which had been put to him were untrue.  It had also failed to provide a defence of the accuracy of the article, or its decision not to publish a correction. The complaint under Clause 1 was upheld.

Date complaint received: 29/02/2016

Date decision issued: 23/06/2016