Ruling

02034-18 Cupis v bathchronicle.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      14th June 2018

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee 02034-18 Cupis v bathchronicle.co.uk

Summary of complaint

1. Malcolm Cupis complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Bath Chronicle breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Bath Conservatives refuse to reveal who sent infamous food poverty tweet”, published on 23 February”.

2. The article reported on an ongoing story about a Tweet from the Bath Conservative Association account. The Tweet was part of a conversation about free-school meals. It argued that if a well-known food writer and activist could “feed herself & her child for £10 a week – not easily, but adequately, most people can”. The publication’s first article reporting on the Tweet was published on 18 February. The article under complaint reported that the Bath Conservatives were refusing to say who had written the Tweet. The article reported that “various names…were linked to the Twitter account in the days following the scandal”, including the complainant and another individual, both of whom were named. The article reported that a spokesperson for the Bath Conservative Association had said that neither of these two people had access to the Twitter account in question, and that the person who had written the tweet “is deeply upset by the incident and the reaction it has caused”.

3. The complainant said that he was not responsible for the Tweet. He said that he had been subject to scrutiny and abuse, because the publication named him in the article under complaint. He said that the Bath Conservative Association, of which he is not a member, had only issued a statement naming him, and saying he did not have access to its Twitter account, because the publication had asked it whether he had been responsible.  The complainant said that he had become the subject of anonymous abuse on social media, which had put him and his family at risk, and represented a breach of his privacy, and harassment.

4. The publication said that the Bath Conservative Association had tweeted an apology for the tweet, in response to which the complainant had tweeted saying that the “fundamentals” of the earlier tweet had been right, arguing that “parents should be primarily responsible for their children, not the state”. It said that another Twitter user then tweeted an image of the complainant’s tweet on 19 February, saying “the chap lots of us suspect of being the originator of the post tweeted this. He’s been strangely silent on @BathChron”, although she had cropped the image so it wasn’t possible to see who it was that she was referring to. However, another Twitter responded to this saying “Thanks Malcolm”. The complainant then responded to both tweets, saying that he was not responsible for the Bath Conservative’s Twitter account. He made a similar statement on his Facebook page.

5. The publication said that the complainant had also commented in the comments section of its first article on the story, which had not named him. In his comment, the complainant noted that he had been “implicated” on Twitter, that the publication had contacted him suggesting that he had been responsible for the Tweet, and that he had no involvement with Bath Conservatives, and that he was not responsible for the Tweet.

6. The publication said that the fact the complainant had publicly denied involvement on Twitter and in the comment section of the earlier article, showed that there was speculation about his involvement in the tweet.  It said that the Conservative Association’s denial that there was any connection between the complainant and the Tweet, was published in the article under complaint, and the publication denied any breach of the Code.

7. The publication removed the complainant’s name as a gesture of goodwill. It also offered to publish an article by the complainant, reiterating his denial, and commenting more broadly on the effects of social media.

Relevant Code provisions

8. Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.

iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.

iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

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. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.

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.

Findings of the Committee

9. Prior to publication of the article under complaint, an individual had said that the complainant was the person “lots of us suspect” of being responsible for the controversial Bath Conservative Association tweet. The complainant did not claim that it was inaccurate to report that he had been “linked” to the Tweet; by his own account, a number of people had implicated him on social media. It was not inaccurate to report that his name had been linked to the tweet.

10. Notwithstanding whether it was accurate to report the complainant’s name had been “linked” to the tweet, the Committee considered whether the article suggested that the complainant was or might have been responsible for the tweet. The article reported that “various names”, of which the complainant was one, “were linked to the account in the days following the scandal. The article then contrasted the fact that these links had been made with the statement from the Bath Conservatives, the organisation ultimately responsible for the Twitter account, saying that they knew who was responsible, that they would not be naming them, but that the complainant did not have access to the account. The Committee considered that the fact the article reported that the links had been made, did not suggest that the complainant was responsible for the tweet; the article made clear via the statement from the Bath Conservatives that he was not responsible. The article was not misleading in the manner alleged, and there was no breach of Clause 1.

11. The complainant had publicly commented on his connection to the Tweet, via Twitter, Facebook and the comment section of the first article reporting the story. In addition, the authorship of the Tweet was not a matter relating to his private life. Taking into account the nature of the information, and the complainant’s own public disclosure of information, there was no breach of Clause 2.

12. Clause 3 generally relates to the conduct of journalists in the news gathering process. Publication of information would only represent a course of conduct such as to represent harassment under the terms of Clause 3 in exceptional circumstances. The fact that the complainant had been subject to criticism and abuse on social media did not make publication of the article under complaint harassment, under the terms of Clause 3.

Conclusions

13. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

N/A

Date complaint received: 26/02/2018

Date decision issued: 23/05/2018