Ruling

02299-17 A man v Daily Star Sunday

    • Date complaint received

      14th August 2017

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 02299-17 A man v Daily Star Sunday

Summary of complaint

1. A man complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Star Sunday breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined ”England ace [the complainant] cheated on sweetheart with me”, published on 26 November 2016, and an article headlined “Love rat's [the complainant] £3.5m new pad”, published on 5 February 2017.

2. The first, front-page article reported that the complainant had told a woman that he was no longer in a relationship with his long-term girlfriend and had engaged in an affair. It had alleged personal conversations and interactions between him and the woman, giving details of where they had allegedly kissed, and the first time they had allegedly slept together. The article described how the woman had become suspicious that the complainant was still in a relationship and had contacted his girlfriend on social media. It was illustrated with images of the text messages the complainant had exchanged with the woman, and her messages to his girlfriend. The article was also published online.

3. The second article reported that the complainant had spent £3.5m on a new six-bedroom house “after cheating on his girl”. It quoted from the estate agent’s listing, which gave general information about where the property was located in the city, and it included pictures of the exterior of the house. The article repeated the claim made in the earlier piece that the complainant had been unfaithful to his long-term girlfriend, and said that the house purchase had led to rumours that they were planning to start a family. The article was also published online.

4. The complainant said that the newspaper had published private information about his relationships and private life without his consent and in the absence of any public interest justification.

5. The complainant said that before these articles were published, there had been no coverage of his personal life, other than stories based on paparazzi photographs which had been taken without consent. He said that there was no public interest justification for publishing the article under complaint; the story had merely served to satisfy readers’ curiosity in the private life of a celebrity. The woman’s right to express herself had not outweighed his right to privacy, particularly in circumstances where there was no public interest justification. He noted that in the online version, the images of the text messages had shown a telephone number, although it was not his.

6. On publication of the first article, the complainant’s representative had contacted the newspaper to express his concern that the article was intrusive and that he had not been contacted in advance. The newspaper’s reporter had informed the complainant’s representative that “we took legal advice and it was considered not to be necessary”. The representative had also requested the removal of the article from the newspaper’s website, but despite this, the article remained in circulation.

7. The complainant said that the second article had included images of his new home, which he said posed a significant security risk to him and his partner. While the house could not be seen from the road, and in order to view the property an individual would need to be invited on to the property, he had not previously publicised his move and images of the property had never before been published in conjunction with his and his partner’s names. He was extremely concerned that members of the public and paparazzi would be able to identify the exact location of his new home from the published images.

8. The complainant was also concerned that the second article had repeated the previously published information about his private life, and its reference to his family represented a further intrusion.

9. The complainant considered that the newspaper’s failure to contact him to verify the claims made in the article in advance of publication represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the articles in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy).

10. The newspaper denied that the first article had included details of the sexual relationship between the complainant and the woman featured in the piece. It had merely reported that a relationship had been conducted in public for three months, and it had done so sensitively. It said that the complainant’s right to privacy did not outweigh the woman’s right to express her views, particularly as the relationship had been conducted openly in the knowledge of the complainant’s friends and acquaintances; the woman had informed the newspaper that she had been on various dates with the complainant in public. With regards to the text messages, the newspaper considered that they had revealed nothing of significance and the number displayed was not the complainant’s. It said that it had removed the number from the online article when notified.

11. With regards to the second article, the newspaper said that the complainant’s house was a generic house of the type common to the area, and it provided some images of other houses to support this. The house was not unique; it would be very difficult to distinguish it from others in the area. It also noted that the house was on a two-acre plot and was not visible to passers-by from the road.

12. In response to the newspaper’s position that the alleged relationship had been conducted in public, the complainant said that this was contradicted by the article itself, which had claimed that it “revealed” the relationship, and had pointed to the relationship being clandestine and not in the public knowledge. He also denied that the story had been handled sensitively: it had been published on the front page of a national newspaper without any notice.

Relevant Code provisions

13. 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. 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.

The public interest

The public interest includes, but is not confined to:

  • Detecting or exposing crime, or the threat of crime, or serious impropriety.
  • Protecting public health or safety.
  • Protecting the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.
  • Disclosing a person or organisation’s failure or likely failure to comply with any obligation to which they are subject.
  • Disclosing a miscarriage of justice.
  • Raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public.
  • Disclosing concealment, or likely concealment, of any of the above.
  • There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.
  • The regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will or will become so.
  • Editors invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they reasonably believed publication - or journalistic activity taken with a view to publication – would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest and explain how they reached that decision at the time.
  • An exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16.

Findings of the Committee

14. The Committee emphasised that the woman had chosen to tell her story to the newspaper, and in doing so had exercised her right to freedom of expression, a right which is enshrined in the Code. However, in order to comply with the Code, the newspaper was required to demonstrate that any intrusion into the private life of the complainant caused by the publication of her story was justified.

15. The Committee noted the newspaper’s position that the complainant had conducted the alleged relationship openly, including attending events with the woman. It also acknowledged that the level of detail given about the nature of the relationship was limited. However, the Committee was concerned that the first article had reproduced text messages which were said to have been sent by the complainant to the woman, and which contained information about which the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy.

16. While the newspaper was able to rely on the woman’s right to freedom of expression as providing some justification for the publication of the article, this had to be balanced against the complainant’s right to respect for his private life. The newspaper had not sought to argue that the complainant had previously discussed his private life publicly and, in the absence of a further public interest consideration, the publication of the complainant’s private text messages, without his consent, could not be justified.

17. As the newspaper had failed to provide sufficient public interest justification for publishing the complainant’s text messages, the complaint under Clause 2 was upheld in relation to the first article.  

18. In the second article, the newspaper repeated the woman’s claim that she had had a relationship with the complainant and that he had been unfaithful to his partner. While the complainant had, in advance, notified the newspaper that he did not consent to publication, this article had not included any details about the nature of the alleged relationship and had not reproduced the complainant’s text messages. In all the circumstances, the reference to the woman’s claim did not intrude into the private life of the complainant in breach of Clause 2.

19. The second article had also included images of the complainant’s new home. The Committee acknowledged his position that members of the public may be able to locate the property from the published images, and his concern to protect his and his partner’s security. However, the Committee did not consider that the public generally would be able to locate the house, which was not visible to the public from the road, from the published images. As such, publishing the images in this context did not represent an intrusion into the complainant’s private life in breach of Clause 2.

20. The newspaper had based the articles on the woman’s account. It had attributed the account to her, and before publication, it had seen correspondence between her and the complainant, which appeared to support her story. While the Committee acknowledged the complainant’s concern that he had not been notified of the story in advance of publication, it was not the case that newspapers are always required to seek comment from the subject of a story before publication to comply with the terms of Clause 1 (i). The complainant had also not alleged that the articles were inaccurate. There was no failure to take care over their accuracy in breach of Clause 1 (i).

Conclusion

21. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial action required

22. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required.

23. The newspaper had published private information in breach of Clause 2. In these circumstances, the publication of the Committee’s adjudication was appropriate.

24. The Committee considered the placement. The article had appeared on the front page and continued on pages four and five. Due to the prominence of the article, the Committee required that a reference to the adjudication be published on the front page, the same size as the strapline appearing on the bottom of the front page under complaint. This reference should direct readers to the full adjudication, which should appear on page four or further forward. Both the headline to the adjudication inside the paper and the front-page reference should make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint, give the title of the newspaper and refer to the complaint’s subject matter. The headline, the placement on the page, and the prominence, including font size, of both the adjudication and the front-page reference must be agreed with IPSO in advance.

25. The adjudication should also be published on the newspaper’s website, with a link to the full adjudication appearing on the top half of the homepage for 24 hours; it should then be archived in the usual way. The terms of the adjudication for publication are as follows:

Following an article published on 26 November 2016 in the Daily Star Sunday, headlined ”England ace [the complainant] cheated on sweetheart with me”, a man complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the newspaper had breached Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. IPSO upheld the complaint and has required the Daily Star Sunday to publish this decision as a remedy to the breach.

The article reported that the complainant had told a woman that he was no longer in a relationship with his long-term partner and had engaged in an affair. The article described how the woman had become suspicious and had contacted his girlfriend on social media. It was illustrated with images of the text messages the complainant had exchanged with the woman, and her messages to his girlfriend.

The complainant said that the newspaper had published private information about his relationships and private life without his consent and in the absence of any public interest justification. Before this article, there had been no coverage of his personal life, other than stories based on paparazzi photographs which had been taken without consent. The woman’s right to express herself had not outweighed his right to privacy, particularly in circumstances where there was no public interest justification.

The newspaper denied that the article had included details of the sexual relationship between the complainant and the woman featured in the piece. It had merely reported that a relationship had been conducted in public for three months. It said that the complainant’s right to privacy had not outweighed the woman’s right to express her views. With regards to the text messages, the newspaper considered that they had revealed nothing of significance.

The Committee considered that the complainant’s text messages to the woman, which appeared to refer to an earlier sexual encounter, was information about which he had a reasonable expectation of privacy.

While the newspaper was able to rely on the woman’s right to freedom of expression as providing some justification for the publication of the article, this was, in the absence of any further public interest consideration, insufficient to justify the publication of the complainant’s private text messages, without his consent. It had also not sought to argue that the complainant had previously discussed his private life publicly.

As the newspaper had failed to provide sufficient public interest justification for publishing the text messages, the complaint under Clause 2 was upheld. 

Date complaint received: 24 March 2017
Date complaint concluded: 21 June 2017