Ruling

03231-16 Mitchell v Daily Record

    • Date complaint received

      3rd November 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 3 Harassment, 6 Children, 9 Reporting of crime

Decision of the Complaints Committee 03231-16 Mitchell v Daily Record

Summary of complaint

1. Derek Mitchell complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Record breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 3 (Harassment), Clause 6 (Children) and Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Mitchell’s weekend in cells” in print and “Violent husband of DJ Suzie McGuire arrested after alleged threatening Facebook posts” online, published on 5 April 2016, and in an article headlined “DJ Suzie nicked over abuse threats to ex” in print and “DJ Suzie McGuire arrested for alleged threat during heated phone row with her ex-husband about their daughter” online published on 30 May 2016.

2. The 4 April article reported that the complainant had spent the weekend in custody over “comments he allegedly made on Facebook”. It described the complainant as a “convicted wifebeater”, and stated that he had allegedly sent his ex-wife “threatening social media messages”. It said that after he was released from custody without being charged, he was met outside the court building by his “new girlfriend” who was named.

3. The 30 May article reported that the complainant’s ex-wife had been arrested for “allegedly making a threat during a phone row with her ex-husband” after the complainant had “made a complaint following a row about their daughter”.

4. The online and print versions of the articles were substantively the same.

5. The complainant said that it was inaccurate for the first article to state that he had been detained over sending his ex-wife threatening “messages” on social media. He said that instead, he had been arrested for allegedly posting a video that caused fear or alarm. He said that his ex-wife had made the complaint that led to his arrest. He was also concerned that it was inaccurate for the article to describe him as being “bearded and bedraggled” when he left court; he was not in such a condition, and the photograph of him accompanying the online article did not show him leaving court that day.

6. The complainant also said that the first article had identified his girlfriend in breach of Clause 9. Although she had appeared in court on the day of his hearing to support him, she was not genuinely relevant to the story.

7. He also said that the second article was biased, and unfairly focussed on him rather than on the alleged offence against him, and that it had exposed his child to untrue allegations in breach of Clause 6. He was also concerned that the newspaper had “demonstrated a clear pattern of abuse and intimidation” against him over the past four years.

8. The newspaper did not accept that its coverage breached the Code. It said that the complainant’s new partner had attended the court where his hearing was scheduled, and spent a considerable amount of time sitting in the public gallery. It argued that her appearance in court in support of the complainant made her genuinely relevant to the story, and that identifying her as the complainant’s partner did not breach the terms of Clause 9. It also said that where the complainant’s previous court appearances relating to his prior convictions had attracted much media attention in the past, press coverage of the hearing was to be expected.

9. The newspaper did not accept that either article was inaccurate.

Relevant Code provisions

10. 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.

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

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

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.

Clause 6 (Children)

i) All pupils should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.

Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime)

i) Relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story.

Findings of the Committee

11. The complainant’s partner had appeared with the accused in a public forum, namely the court where the hearing was to be held. She had entered the court building, had asked where the case was to be heard, and had waited in the public gallery for the hearing to take place; only upon discovering that the complainant was to be released without charge did she leave. The complainant’s partner’s decision to publicly meet with and accompany him at court – in an apparent act of support – made her genuinely relevant to the story. In these circumstances, and in the context of an article that reported that the complainant’s hearing had been cancelled and had been released without charge, naming her – and identifying her as the complainant’s “new girlfriend” without otherwise focusing on her – did not represent a breach of Clause 9.

12. The complainant had accepted that he had been arrested for allegedly posting a video on Facebook that caused fear or alarm, and that the complaint leading to his arrest had been made by his ex-wife. While the Committee noted the complainant’s position that he denied these allegations, it was not significantly misleading for the first article to state that he had been arrested “over comments he allegedly made on Facebook”. The article made clear that he had been arrested over allegedly posting material on social media, and that the alleged victim was his ex-wife. In the context of a report that made clear the complainant had been released without being charged, whether he had allegedly published comments or a video on social media was not a significant point. Further, while the Committee acknowledged the complainant’s concern over this description, the newspaper was entitled to characterise him as being “bearded and bedraggled” in circumstances where it had seen him following his release. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

13. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern that the second article had been written in a manner he considered had demonstrated “bias” against him, and had omitted information about the alleged offence against him. The selection of material for publication is, however, a matter of editorial discretion. Newspapers have the editorial freedom to make such selections provided that they do not raise breaches of the Editors’ Code. In this instance, the article made clear that the complainant’s ex-wife had been arrested following alleged threats she had made against him during a “telephone row”; it was not in dispute that the arrest had taken place following the alleged row. In these circumstances, the omission of further information about these allegations from the perspective of the complainant did not render the article significantly misleading, inaccurate or distorted. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

14. The terms of Clause 3 generally relate to the conduct of journalists during the newsgathering process, and are designed to protect individuals from unwanted or repeated approaches by the press. The complainant’s general concern over the nature of the reports about him did not engage the terms of this Clause.

15. Clause 6 is designed to protect children against unnecessary intrusion caused directly by the press either during the newsgathering process or by published material. In this instance, the second article made a number of references to the complainant’s daughter. She was not, however, named or otherwise identified in the coverage. In these circumstances, the brief references to her in the context of a story about the allegations following the apparent “telephone row” between the complainant and his ex-wife did not constitute an unjustified intrusion in breach of Clause 6.

Conclusions

16. The complaint was not upheld.

Date complaint received: 31/05/2016
Date decision issued: 06/10/2016