Ruling

01688-16 Price v The Sun

    • Date complaint received

      7th July 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      10 Clandestine devices and subterfuge, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee 01688-16 Price v The Sun

1. Emma Price complained through a representative to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun breached Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Tell uncaring carer to go pack her bags” in print and headlined “Fury of OAP’s shocked family: Tell uncaring carer to go and pack her bags” online, published on 12 March 2016.

2. The article reported that the complainant had been suspended from her work after a photograph of her “smok[ing] and talk[ing] on her phone” having “piled shopping bags on a disabled OAP” in a wheelchair had been published on Facebook. It reported that the family of the man the complainant had been photographed with had said that she “should be sacked”. It included the photograph which had been published on Facebook, as well as one showing just the complainant walking in the street. It said that the complainant had refused to comment.

3. The complainant said the photograph of her walking in the street had been taken without her knowledge or consent in breach of Clause 2. She said that the photograph had been taken secretly using a hidden camera – she said that there were no photographers in the street at the time, and that the picture had probably been taken from inside a house or garden on the other side of the road. She was concerned that this was a breach of Clause 10.

4. The complainant said that prior to publication, a journalist had called her on the phone seeking comment. She made clear she had no comments to make, and told the journalist to contact her employers for comment instead. She considered that this made clear that she did not wish to be contacted again. She was concerned therefore to have received a second call from the same journalist again seeking comment: she said she had reiterated that she had no comments to make and hung up. Following this, the complainant said that a journalist had visited the house of a family member asking to speak with her. She said that this had taken place at approximately 8:30pm – this was not a time she would expect a visitor. The person who answered the door told the journalist that she had no comments to make. She was concerned that the repeated attempts to seek comment from her amounted to harassment and persistent pursuit, in breach of Clause 3. She also questioned how the journalist had managed to obtain the details of the family member’s address, as they did not share the same surname and could therefore not have been easily identified as relatives on the electoral roll.

5. The newspaper did not accept that the Code had been breached. The newspaper said that the photograph of the complainant in the street had been taken by a photographer from his car. It had been taken in a public place, in which the complainant had no reasonable expectation of privacy. It did not therefore seek consent from the complainant before it had been taken, and said that no clandestine devices were used.

6. It also said that the photograph showing the complainant with the man in the wheelchair had been widely circulated on social media, and that a lot of critical comments about the complainant had been posted online. It was therefore crucial that the newspaper gave the complainant the opportunity to comment on the photograph before it published an article about it.

7. According to the newspaper, during the first call, the complainant said “no comment. You will have to speak to [my employer]”. She terminated the call before the journalist could explain that publication was imminent and she made no clear request for the journalist to stop contacting her. The journalist called again to try to explain that the matter was urgent – the complainant again said she had no comments to make. After this call ended, the journalist did not phone her again.

8. The newspaper said that a different journalist – an agency reporter – had been sent to the complainant’s home, also to seek comment; they had not been aware that the complainant had already told the newspaper’s journalist that she had no comment to make. The complainant was not home when the agency reporter arrived, and therefore made further enquiries at neighbours’ homes. A neighbour gave the reporter the complainant’s family’s address and said she was likely to be there. The reporter knocked on the door at the address, and explained to the family member who answered that they were looking for the complainant; the family member shut the door on the reporter, who subsequently left. The newspaper said that the exchange lasted no longer than 15 seconds, and that the reporter had been courteous and polite.

Relevant Code provisions

9. 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 3 (Harassment)

i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.

ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must   identify themselves and whom they represent.

iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.

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.

Findings of the Committee

10. A desist request does not have to take a specific form, and the Committee does not concern itself with the niceties of the language an individual employs. In this case, the Committee’s concern was whether the complainant’s language was such that it would have communicated to the journalist that she was distressed by their contact, and wished for them to stop such that further approaches would amount to harassment. In this context, the complainant’s “no comment” response and her suggestion that the journalist contact her employer did not amount to a desist request. As such, the second call – which appeared to have only lasted a very short time and in which the journalist sought to explain the situation further – did not amount to persistent pursuit under the Code. Further, there was no suggestion that the journalist had acted in a manner that was aggressive or intimidating. There was no breach of Clause 3 on this point.

11. While it was concerning that the agency reporter was unaware of the complainant’s position that she did not want to comment on the matter, in the absence of any request to desist, the additional enquiry at the family member’s house, which in any case was also very brief, did not amount to persistent pursuit under the Code. This did not breach Clause 3. Neither did the journalist’s attempts to determine how to best contact the complainant by asking her neighbours.

12. It was not in dispute that the photograph of the complainant had been taken while she was in a public road. She did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, and she was not engaged in any private activity. In the full circumstances therefore, the journalist was not obliged to seek her consent before taking the photograph. Not doing so did not raise a breach of Clause 2. Neither did the publication of the photograph itself, as it did not reveal anything intrinsically private about the complainant.

13. While the photograph had been taken from a location not obviously visible to the complainant, the photographer had not engaged in misrepresentation or subterfuge, and the camera was not “hidden” for the purposes of Clause 10. There was no breach of the Code.

Conclusions

14. The complaint was not upheld.

Date complaint received: 13/03/2016
Date complaint concluded: 10/06/2016