Ruling

04680-18 Cosentino v Thurrock Independent

    • Date complaint received

      20th November 2018

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee 04680-18 Cosentino v Thurrock Independent

Summary of complaint

1. Jenna Cosentino complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Thurrock Independent breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in the following articles:

  • “Flytip reveals origin of rubbish dumped in Chadwell that angers residents” published online on 17 July 2018
  • “I didn’t know this would happen…” published on 19 July 2018
  • “Apathy, lies or incompetence?” published on 26 July 2018.

2. The first article reported concerns about fly-tipping at a site in the local area. The article included a video of the rubbish found by the editor of the newspaper, who had visited the site to investigate. Bank and insurance documents for her property were visible in the video. The complainant’s name, the address at which she had recently resided, account and credit card numbers and outstanding balances were visible on the documents. The article stated that the information about fly-tipping had been passed to the Council to investigate. This article was published online only.

3. The other two articles appeared in print only and were follow ups to the fly-tipping story. The second article reported how the complainant’s waste had come to be at the site, and included a statement from her that said, “I used a waste disposal person in good faith and it is not my fault they dumped it.” The complainant was named in the article, and the partial address reported in the previous article, was also published. The third article reported the Council’s reaction to the alleged fly- tipping. The article stated that following the publication of the first article, “one of the people who paid for rubbish to be taken from her home, was identified and she admitted her actions,” but that no further action had been taken. It also included a still image from the original video footage, in which the complainant’s documentation was visible, but her personal and bank details had been redacted.

4. The complainant said that all three articles had intruded into her privacy. She said that the video, which had also appeared on the newspaper’s social media account, had revealed her name and the address at which she had recently lived, as well as confidential banking information. She had contacted the newspaper and asked that this information be redacted. She said that the editor had said that before he would do so, the complainant must agree to speak to the Council and the police about how her waste came to be at the site. The complainant had contacted these organisations, and the publication agreed that it would not continue to publish her private information.

5. She said that she had made clear that her personal information had been published without her consent, and so naming her in the second article was a further breach of her privacy. She said that the editor had told her he would be running a follow-up story on the matter, but had not said that she would be named. She said that information she provided to the newspaper regarding how her rubbish was removed was provided confidentially for the purposes of a complaint, and should not have been published. She said that the re-publication of this information in the third article was a further intrusion; although she was not named, she was identifiable, due to previous coverage.

6. The complainant said that publishing further articles regarding her involvement in this matter after she had asked the newspaper not to do so, amounted to harassment under the terms of the Editors’ Code.

7. The newspaper did not accept that it had breached the Code. It said that the articles reported on a matter of considerable public interest in the local area. It said that, prior to publication, it had considered whether it was necessary to redact the complainant’s personal information from the video, but had decided that editing the footage might affect its authenticity. It said that the complainant had given the paperwork to an unauthorised waste disposal service, without making any attempt to redact her personal information, and that it was currently lying on public land. It said that the complainant had placed the information into the public domain. It also noted that the paperwork was around two years old, and that the complainant had now moved from this address. In these circumstances, it did not consider that the complainant had an expectation of privacy in relation to the documents.

8. The newspaper did not accept that the correspondence between the complainant and the newspaper amounted to a formal complaint. It said she had made a request for this information to be redacted, which it had agreed to do after she had agreed to inform the Council as to who was responsible for dumping her rubbish. It said that the editor had made it very clear to the complainant that he would continue to report on this issue, and it did not accept that it had agreed not to name the complainant again. The newspaper believed that the complainant was aware that the comments she made on the matter may be used for publication. It also said that publishing a number of articles about this matter, and naming the complainant, who had carried out a potentially criminal act, did not amount to harassment. It re-iterated that there was a strong public interest in reporting on this matter in an open and transparent way, especially given the perceived lack of action taken by the relevant authorities.

Relevant Code provisions

9. 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 intrusion 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.

The Public Interest

There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.

1. 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.

2. There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.

3. The regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will become so.

4. 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.

5. An exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16.

Findings of the Committee

10. The complainant’s bank details, including account numbers, and balances of accounts, was information about which she clearly had an expectation of privacy. This was sensitive confidential information, which had come from private correspondence. There was a legitimate public interest in reporting on the issue of fly-tipping. However, the newspaper had not provided a specific justification for the publication of the complainant’s bank details in the online article. The Committee did not accept that using an unauthorised contractor to remove waste amounted to consent to place private information in the public domain. Also, while the documents were visible on public land, the newspaper had not sought to argue that this specific information was so widely known so as to constitute it being in the public domain.  In these circumstances, there was a breach of Clause 2.

11. The other two articles had identified the complainant as someone who had used an unauthorised waste disposal service. This was not information about which the complainant had an expectation of privacy; it formed part of the newspaper’s coverage of a story of legitimate public interest. There was no breach of Clause 2 in the two print articles.

12. Clause 3 generally relates to the conduct and behaviour of journalists during the newsgathering process. It specifically refers to the conduct expected of journalists when making contact with members of the public, and is designed to protect individuals from unwanted or repeated approaches by the press. The fact that a newspaper continued to publish stories relating to the complainant, on a matter of legitimate public interest, contrary to the complainant’s wishes, did not constitute a breach of Clause 3.  Further, while the Committee expressed serious concern about the newspaper’s handling of the complaint, and its decision to offer to remove private information on a conditional basis, this did not constitute harassment under the terms of Clause 3.

Conclusions 

13. The complaint under Clause 2 was upheld, in relation to the first online article.

Remedial Action required

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

15. The newspaper had published private information in breach of Clause 2. In those circumstances, the publication of the Committee’s adjudication was appropriate. Also, given the Committee’s concern regarding the newspaper’s handling of the complaint, IPSO will separately discuss what further action may be appropriate in these circumstances.  The Committee considered the placement of the adjudication. As the video had appeared on the online article only, the Committee considered that the adjudication should 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 headline to the adjudication 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 of the adjudication must be agreed with IPSO in advance.

16. The terms of the adjudication for publication are as follows:

Jenna Cosentino complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Thurrock Independent breached Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Flytip reveals origin of rubbish dumped in Chadwell that angers residents” published online on 17 July 2018. The complaint was upheld and Thurrock Independent has been required to publish this ruling as a remedy to the breach of the Code.

The article reported concerns about fly-tipping at a site in the local area. The article included a video of the rubbish found by the editor of the newspaper, who had visited the site to investigate. Bank and insurance documents for her property were visible in the video. The complainant’s name, the address at which she had recently resided, account and credit card numbers and outstanding balances were visible on the documents. The article stated that the information about fly-tipping had been passed to the Council to investigate.

The complainant said that the video, which had also appeared on the newspaper’s social media account, had revealed her name and the address at which she had recently lived, as well as confidential banking information. She had contacted the newspaper and asked that this information be redacted. She said that the editor had said that before he would do so, the complainant must agree to speak to the Council and the police about how her waste came to be at the site. The complainant had contacted these organisations, and the publication agreed that it would not continue to publish her private information.

The newspaper did not accept that it had breached the Code. It said that the articles reported on a matter of considerable public interest in the local area. It said that, prior to publication, it had considered whether it was necessary to redact the complainant’s personal information from the video, but had decided that editing the footage might affect its authenticity. It said that the complainant had given the paperwork to an unauthorised waste disposal service, without making any attempt to redact her personal information, and that it was currently lying on public land. It said that the complainant had placed the information into the public domain. It also noted that the paperwork was around two years old. In these circumstances, it did not consider that the complainant had an expectation of privacy in relation to the documents.

The complainant’s bank details, including account numbers, and balances of accounts, was information about which she clearly had an expectation of privacy. This was sensitive confidential information, which had come from private correspondence. There was a legitimate public interest in reporting on the issue of fly-tipping. However, the newspaper had not provided a specific justification for the publication of the complainant’s bank details. The Committee did not accept that using an unauthorised contractor to remove waste amounted to consent to place private information in the public domain. Also, while the documents were visible on public land, the newspaper had not sought to argue that this specific information was so widely known so as to constitute it being in the public domain. There was a breach of Clause 2.

Date complaint received: 24/07/2018

Date decision issued: 16/10/2018