Ruling

Resolution Statement – 02507-22 Jones v Daily Mail

    • Date complaint received

      15th September 2022

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      2 Privacy

Resolution Statement – 02507-22 Jones v Daily Mail

Summary of Complaint

1. Linda Jones complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mail breached Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Mum's affair ruined my family life”, published on 9 April 2022.

2. The article under complaint took the form of an anonymous letter to an advice column. In this letter, the writer – who was referred to as ‘Pauline’ – set out the impact her mother’s affair had had on her father and wider family.

3. The article also appeared online in the same format, under the headline “Mum’s affair ruined my father’s life”.

4. The complainant was “Pauline”, the woman who had written the letter to the advice columnist. She sent the letter via email to the columnist in October 2020; the following day, she sent a follow-up email to the columnist. In the follow-up email, she stated: “My new worry was that my question would be printed and jeopardise my children’s future. So, thank you for just being somewhere out there.” Less than a month after these emails were sent, the letter was published.

5. After the 2020 publication of the letter, the complainant wrote to the columnist, saying that she had asked for the letter not to published. The columnist replied the next day: she offered a “sincere apology” and explained that she had not seen the follow-up email and felt “awful about it”.

6. The letter was subsequently republished on 9 April 2022. The complainant wrote to the columnist on this day, and said that the distress this republication had caused her was “immense”. The columnist responded on the same day to express her “sincere” apologies for this error.

7. The complainant said that the republication of the letter breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and had led to “absolute devastation” within her family. She also said that she wanted an explanation as to how the situation had come to pass, and some kind of assurance that it would not happen again in the future.

8. The publication said that it did not accept that the terms of Clause 2 had been breached. It said that the complainant had not set out precisely what information contained within the letter was private. It further noted that the letter was anonymised, and that the complainant had given no indication that the publication of the letter had revealed information about her to people who were not already aware of the situation as set out in the letter. It then said that, on a technical level, the contents of the letter were in the public domain prior to publication: the letter had previously been published, and remained online at the time the second version was published – though both versions of the online article had been removed upon receipt of the complainant’s 2022 complaint.

9. The publication said that, while it did not accept that the terms of Clause 2 had been breached, it sincerely regretted that the inadvertent republication of the letter had caused distress to the complainant and her family. It removed both online versions of the letter – both the 2020 and 2022 versions – upon receipt of the IPSO complaint, as a gesture of goodwill.

10. The publication also explained in more detail how the error had occurred: The email address which the letter had been sent to was monitored by the secretary to the section editor, who forwarded on emails which they considered to be interesting or relevant to the columnist’s personal email address. The columnist would then select letters for publication, and the selected letters would then be deleted from the email address upon publication. In this instance, the newspaper said that the most likely explanation was that it was the follow-up email – in which the complainant had requested that the letter not be published – which had been deleted, rather than the original letter. It also said that this was the first time such an error had occurred, and that the columnist was apologetic and “mortified” about the mistake.

11. Turning next to the question of how it might be able to prevent such a situation from occurring again in the future, the publication said that it had taken the following steps: The matter had been discussed with the section editor, as well as the production department responsible for putting the pages together; it said that these additional two levels of oversight, in conjunction with additional administrative support from the section editor’s secretary, would help to ensure that the possibility of such mistakes occurring again were lessened. It also said that it would welcome suggestions from the complainant as to how it could strengthen its process.

12. The complainant said that the media was a powerful tool that required “robust process control” and that the failure of such control had in this case led to further unnecessary distress for her family. She said that the action undertaken by the publication so far was not sufficient to resolve her complaint, therefore.

Relevant Code Provisions

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.

Mediated Outcome

13. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.

14. During IPSO’s investigation the publication offered to pay the complainant a sum of money, to be divided between a charity of her choice and her family as she saw fit.

15. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to her satisfaction.

16. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.

 

Date complaint received: 17/04/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 01/09/2022