Ruling

01855-16 de Cadenet v Daily Mirror

    • Date complaint received

      11th August 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee 01855-16 de Cadenet v Daily Mirror

Summary of Complaint

1. Julia de Cadenet complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mirror breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Slurs and abuse over dog fund cash riddle”, published in print on 3 December 2015, and “Dog charity cash mystery as animal lovers hounded for asking where £70,000 donations have gone” published online on 2 December 2015.

2. The article reported that animal welfare campaigners who raised questions about a UK charity No To Dog Meat had received “shocking online abuse”. It said that the charity had raised more than £80,000 following an appeal to raise funds to save animals destined for the Yulin Dog Meat Festival in China, and that the money was due to go to a particular animal rescuer in the region; however, it said that only £10,000 had made its way to her. The article quoted one of the campaigners, an academic, saying that when he asked about the money, he started to receive online abuse. It also reported the academic’s claim that, legally, the charity was obliged to return the money to the donors if it was not going to the named recipient, and that it could not divert the money for some other purpose. It also reported the claims of another campaigner, an actor, who had said he had received similar abuse online when he confirmed that that he was not a supporter of the charity.

3. The article quoted a volunteer from the charity who said that it had stopped sending money to the rescuer because she had not used any of it to save animals. This sentence was followed by a comment from the journalist that “these statements appear to be defamatory”. It also included a comment from the complainant, the charity’s chief executive, who said “the charity commission is satisfied we are compliant”, as well as from the Charity Commission itself, who said that they had not concluded their assessment of the charity and were unable to comment further.

4. The sub-headline of the online article said that the actor had received “smears when questions were asked about No To Dog Meat”. Aside from this and the different headlines, the articles were identical.

5. The complainant said that the article was misleading because the academic had never directly asked the charity questions about the fundraising appeal, and the charity could not answer questions it had not been asked; she also said that the sub-headline on the online article was inaccurate as the actor had never asked questions of the charity. She also said that neither the academic nor the actor had been abused by the charity and if anything, both had abused her. She did, however, provide an email sent to her by the academic dated 19 November 2015, which included a link to his blog where he questioned where the money had gone.

6. The complainant said the article suggested she was a ‘scammer’ and there was ‘missing money’. She said that the charity had provided £10,000 from the fundraiser to the rescuer but after a visit to China by members of the charity, including the complainant, following concerns that the money was not being used correctly, it concluded she was not a suitable recipient of the money raised. She said that the academic’s assertion that the charity had to return the money to donors if it was not given to the named recipient was incorrect. She said that the initial target for the fundraiser was £5,000 which was raised and sent to the rescuer, and that further payments above that target were then made to her. She said that the fundraiser could not, therefore, be considered an ‘initial failure’ and, as a result, donors were not lawfully entitled to a refund. She said that as the charity had been lawfully using the money to facilitate genuine rescue of dogs from China, the remaining funds from the appeal had been repurposed for a similar purpose as that first intended. She said that the Charity Commission had been informed about this, as had those who had donated to the appeal; she also provided a blog posted on 24 November 2015 which explained why the charity had decided that it could not provide further funds raised in the appeal to the rescuer.

7. The complainant said that while the charity had received an email from the newspaper’s reporter asking a number of questions, it was not made clear in the email that he was conducting an interview. She said that a volunteer initially replied to the email, and she herself followed that up with a further reply explaining why the rescuer was not a suitable recipient of the charity’s funding. She said she offered to speak to the reporter by phone, and he emailed stating that he would call; however, he did not do so.

8. The complainant said that the photograph of her accompanying the article was misleading because the person beside her in the photograph, who was one of the charity’s trustees, was cut out; she also said the photograph was “blown up” to present her in an unflattering light. She said that the publication of the photograph suggested that she was responsible for the ‘missing money’ referred to in the article. She said that the photograph was private, and its publication had affected her work and private life.

9. The newspaper said that the article did not report or imply that the academic had put questions directly to the charity, but that he had merely asked “what had happened to the balance”. It also said that the article did not assign the blame for the abuse suffered by the two animal welfare campaigners to the charity, or members of the charity. It said that the academic’s questions had been posted on a social network site in August, after which he started to receive abuse and threats from people online.

10. The newspaper denied that the academic’s assertion that the money should be returned to donors was inaccurate. It said that he had contacted the Charity Commission about the matter, and its journalist had conducted his own research and was satisfied with the accuracy of the quote. It relied on material from the Charity Commission website and said that as the purpose of the appeal was specifically to help the rescuer’s work at Yulin, and this was not  achieved, this was a case of ‘initial failure’ where the donors would have a right to a refund. However, it said that as the complainant’s opinion on the matter differed, it would be willing to publish a clarification to set out the complainant’s position on the law.

11. The newspaper said that its reporter had contacted the charity in advance of publication by email, and had received responses from a volunteer and the complainant. It said the email had asked questions about how much money was raised, how much had been sent to Mrs Yang and what would happen to the balance of the money. It said that the charity’s position in relation to the article’s claims was included in the article. 

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

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 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.

Findings of the Committee

13. The Committee acknowledged that the way in which the claims in the article were presented created some ambiguity as to who the questions had been asked of, and who had abused the campaigners online. However, the article as a whole made clear the precise nature of the questions asked and the online abuse received by the campaigners, and on balance, the Committee did not consider that the article stated that the charity had refused to answer questions about the money raised, or had abused either of the two people mentioned in the article. There was no breach of Clause 1.

14. The complainant had not addressed the questions asked by the academic in his email to the charity of 19 November; in addition, the charity had made no public announcements about its plans for the money raised until late November, having visited China in August. While the Committee noted the complainant’s assertion that people who had contributed to the appeal had been informed what would happen to the money, in circumstances where questions were being asked about the money raised, and the charity had allowed a number of months to pass before attempting to publicly clarify the situation, it was not misleading to report that the academic’s concerns remained unanswered. In any event, it noted that the complainant had been contacted by the reporter prior to publication, and that her comments outlining the charity’s position, and those of a volunteer, had been included in the article. There was no breach of Clause 1.

15. While the sub-headline of the online article suggested that the actor had received “smears when questions were asked about No To Dog Meat”, the article reported that he received online abuse when he had said he was not a supporter of the charity. In circumstances where the actor received online abuse in relation to his views on the charity, any inaccuracy as to what had triggered this abuse was not significant in the context of the article as a whole. There was no breach of Clause 1.

16. The article reported that questions had been asked by a campaigner about the funds raised during the appeal, that these concerns had not been answered by the charity and that two animal welfare campaigners had received abuse online; it did not report or suggest that the complainant was a ‘scammer’, or was responsible for the ‘missing money’. There was no breach of Clause 1.

17. The Committee noted the different positions taken by the newspaper and the complaint in relation the legal status of the fundraising appeal, but was not in a position to decide whether the appeal was an ‘initial’ or ‘subsequent’ failure. However, in the context of an article which primarily focused on what had happened to the money raised during the appeal, and only briefly mentioned the legal status of the funds in the form of a quote from a critic of the charity, it did not consider that any inaccuracy on this point would be significant. There was no breach of Clause 1.

18. The editing of the photograph to exclude the person standing beside the complainant did not give a misleading impression of her involvement in the charity, nor did publication of the photograph suggest that she was personally responsible for any ‘missing’ money. There was no breach of Clause 1.

19. The photograph of the complainant was taken at a public event, and did not reveal any private information about her. There was no breach of Clause 3.

Conclusions

20.  The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received: 20/03/2016
Date decision issued: 19/07/2016