Ruling

02465-22 Gleeson v thesun.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      13th October 2022

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 02465-22 Gleeson v thesun.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. Eileen Gleeson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that thesun.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “NO CARD FEELINGS Nurse sues Royal British Legion after colleagues gave her birthday card joking about her age”, published on 16 June 2021.

2. The article reported on claims brought by the complainant against her former employer, the Royal British Legion, before an Employment Tribunal. It reported that the complainant had sued the organisation for discrimination after her colleagues had given her a birthday card stating: “It's not about age, it's about attitude”. It said that her claim of “victimisation, age discrimination and unfair dismissal by” the organisation was dismissed, with the judge ruling that “referring to someone’s age in context was not discriminatory” and that “It was her lack of co-operation and refusal to communicate with her managers which…led to the termination of the contract.” The article stated that following the judgment, the complainant said the card was “insulting”, “despicable” and “very unprofessional”, adding that the “fact that we were all nurses and should be caring [for] people made it quite shocking”. The article also reported that the complainant had said “It was probably the most traumatic experience I have gone through”.

3. The article was accompanied by a photograph of the complainant, captioned “Eileen Gleeson sued the Royal Legion for discrimination after her colleagues gave her a birthday card saying 'It's not about age, it's about attitude’”.

4. The complainant said the article was inaccurate and misleading, in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy), because it gave a misleading account of her tribunal. She said that the focus on the card misrepresented her case. She said that the age discrimination aspect of her claim related to being excluded from training which younger colleagues had been permitted to attend; she had been unable to obtain critical evidence to support this claim from her employer, so the birthday card had been produced as evidence because it was 'ageist’. Her comment that it was “probably the most traumatic experience I have gone through” also contributed to this misleading impression; this comment to the reporter had not related to the card but rather to the harassment she said she had experienced over a period of time at work.

5. She also denied that her claim concerned “victimisation, age discrimination and unfair dismissal”; rather, it related to the statutory right to be accompanied to a meeting, less favourable treatment as a part-time worker, harassment, age discrimination and outstanding holiday pay.

6. The complainant also expressed concern that a reporter had approached her for comment following the tribunal at her home address. She said that this approach and the publication of a photograph of her breached her privacy under Clause 2 (Privacy).

7. She also said that the article was discriminatory in breach of Clause 12 (Discrimination) by its focus on the birthday card and, by extension, her age.

8. The publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. The copy had been supplied by a news agency, and published in good faith. It said that the article was an accurate report of the complainant’s employment tribunal and her comments to the reporter. It added that it was entitled to focus on specific aspects of the case, with the judgment addressing the card as a self-contained cause of action and the judge commenting that the “sending of a birthday card making reference to age is not in this context capable of amounting to a detriment or of unfavourable treatment” of the complainant. It also noted that the complainant had discussed the issue of the card with the reporter during the interview; allowed for the card to be photographed; and gave no indication during the interaction that she considered it a minor or irrelevant part of her case. The publication maintained that the complainant’s comment about “the most traumatic experience I have gone through” was made specifically in respect of the birthday card. While it was unable to provide the reporter’s contemporaneous notes from the interview to demonstrate this (citing the 11 months between the interview and the complaint being made to IPSO), it did provide a written statement – authored in response to IPSO’s investigation – from the reporter, who maintained that the complainant had been accurately quoted. Further, the publication said that the judgment made clear the complainant’s claims related to "Age Discrimination, Victimisation, Part Time Worker Regulations, Unfair Dismissal and Holiday Pay”; it was entitled to focus upon the discrimination aspect of the case, and this did not render the article inaccurate or misleading.

9. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 2. The reporter had approached the complainant for comment at her home address; introduced themselves and specified the news agency they worked for; explained the purpose of their visit and their interest in the birthday card; and had been invited inside the complainant’s home to complete the interview. While the complainant had declined to be photographed holding the birthday card, she had shared the published image for use in the article with the reporter the following day via email.

10. Finally, the publication did not consider that Clause 12 was engaged; the article did not include any prejudicial or pejorative references to the complainant’s protected characteristic.

Relevant Code Provisions

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 their private and family life, home, physical and mental 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 12 (Discrimination)

i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

Findings of the Committee

11. The article reported on the complainant’s claims before the Employment Tribunal. While the Committee noted the complainant’s concerns about the focus of the article, the selection and sourcing of material is a matter of editorial discretion, as long as the publication of material does not otherwise breach the Editors’ Code. The article had reported the complainant’s claims as being victimisation, age discrimination and unfair dismissal and it was not in dispute that the birthday card, which had a comment about age, had formed part of the complainant’s evidence in support of her discrimination claim and was subject to a ruling made by the judge. In circumstances where it was clear from the text of the article that it was not the sole concern raised by the complainant against her former employer, the Committee did not consider that the article’s focus on the birthday card rendered the article inaccurate or misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

12. Similarly, the Committee did not consider that the omission of the details of each specific claim made by the complainant against her former employer rendered the article inaccurate or misleading; as noted above, the article included an accurate summary of her claims in broad terms. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

13. The Committee then considered the complainant’s concerns that her comments to the reporter had been misrepresented. The complainant denied that her comment “it was probably the most traumatic experience [she had] gone through” was made in relation to receiving the card – as she claimed the article suggested – but rather to the harassment she said she had experienced from her former employer over a period of time. The Committee expressed concern that the publication had been unable to provide any notes or recording of the conversation between the reporter and complainant. The Committee also noted that the quotation in issue appeared at the end of the article, in separate quotation marks, making it unclear as to whether the complainant was referring specifically to the birthday card or her experiences whilst working for her former employer more generally. However, given that the complainant did not dispute that she had described receiving the card as “insulting”, “despicable” and “very unprofessional”, the Committee did not consider that the manner in which this comment had been included in the article rendered it significantly inaccurate or misleading as to the complainant’s position. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

14. The Committee next considered the concerns raised under Clause 2. This Clause is designed to ensure that an individual’s private life is respected. The complainant said that the newspaper had intruded into her privacy through its approach to her for comment and in its use of a photograph of her. The Committee did not consider that the approach made by the reporter, which resulted in the complainant consenting to an interview and inviting the journalist inside her home, represented an intrusion into her private life. In addition, where the photograph had been provided freely by the complainant to the reporter following the conclusion of the interview, the publication was entitled to consider that the complainant had consented to the publication of this image. It also noted that the photograph showed the complainant’s likeness; it did not reveal any private information about her or show her engaged in any private activity. As such, the Committee could not find that the publication of this photograph constituted an intrusion into the complainant’s private life. There was no breach of Clause 2.

15. The terms of Clause 12 state that publications must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s protected characteristic. There is no reference to “age” in this Clause. As such, the terms of Clause 12 were not engaged by the complainant’s concerns.

Conclusion(s)

16. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

17. N/A


Date complaint received: 12/04/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 27/09/2022.