Ruling

01762-14 Kopp v Medway Messenger

    • Date complaint received

      15th May 2015

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee 01762-14 Kopp v Medway Messenger

Summary of complaint 

1. Fatimah Kopp complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Medway Messenger had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Out of work and out of pocket”, published on 7 November 2014. 

2. The article reported that a local community club, the Peninsula club, had closed down, leaving some staff unpaid. It said that there was confusion over the complainant’s role in the operation of the club, but that employees considered her to be their manager. It included a photograph of her posing with friends inside the club. 

3. The complainant said that she had been listed as a director of the club at Companies House in error, and had later been removed from the register; she had informed the newspaper of this fact prior to publication. She said that she was not involved in the running of the club. She also said that staff had been paid their wages, contrary to the claims in the article. 

4. The complainant was also concerned that the photograph of her had been taken from her Facebook page, where it was only viewable to friends. She said that it had been emailed to the newspaper by a member of the club’s staff and used without her consent. She said that the photograph had been taken during a social event in the club, and used to inaccurately imply that she was involved in its operation. 

5. The newspaper strongly stood by its story. It said that the story had made clear that there was uncertainty surrounding the complainant’s role in the club. It provided copies of Facebook conversations and text messages which the complainant had exchange with employees, which showed that she was involved in running the Club, including the following excerpt from a Facebook message: “…all my plans that I’ve made have been put to one side to keep this business running because I realise that staff have homes to run & families to feed. I’m running a business & I need the support of all staff as a manager it’s your job to be there & work all your contracted hours.” The newspaper said that employees had spoken to the newspaper on the record. It had taken their information in good faith, and had attempted to put the claims to the complainant prior to publication, but she had declined to comment. It said that it understood that the complainant had been named in a civil action to recoup the employees’ wages. 

6. The newspaper said that when its journalist was researching the story, it accessed the complainant’s Facebook page to find that “dozens” of her albums were publicly viewable. The newspaper wanted a photograph of her inside the club, and one of its sources (an employee of the club) provided one from her Facebook page. It said that, given the large number of publicly available photographs, it did not think that it would be a problem to use the one it published. It said that, having brought her complaint, the complainant had made efforts to increase the security restrictions on her Facebook page. 

Relevant Code Provisions

7. 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. 

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

Clause 3 (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 instructions into any individual’s private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant’s own public disclosures of information. 

Findings of the Committee

8. The conversations with staff which the newspaper had provided clearly showed that the complainant did play some role in the running of the club. The newspaper had contacted the complainant prior to publication and spoken with Companies House. The references to the complainant in the article made clear that “she denies having anything to do with the failed club”, that “papers were filed with Companies House appointing her as a director but, according to its records and after discussions with her, her appointment as a director was taken off the public register”, and that there was “confusion over [her] role”. The Committee was satisfied that this element of the complaint did not raise a breach of Clause 1. 

9. The journalist had spoken to club employees on the record, who had said that they had not been paid in full and were owed substantial sums of money; these comments were included in the article. The newspaper was entitled to rely on the accounts of the employees. The newspaper had put the claims to the complainant prior to publication, but she had declined to comment on this point. One of the club’s former owners had also “declined to comment on any of the issues raised by the workers.” There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article; a correction was not required under the terms of Clause 1. 

10. The photograph had been provided by an employee of the club, after the complainant had chosen to share it online. The subject matter of the photograph was innocuous, and its use did not demonstrate a failure to respect the complainant’s private life. There was no breach of Clause 3. 

Conclusions

11. The complaint was not upheld. 

Remedial Action Required

N/A 

Date complaint received: 12/11/2014

Date decision issued: 15/05/2015