Ruling

05168-15 Wanstall v Dover Express

    • Date complaint received

      14th December 2015

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee 05168-15 Wanstall v Dover Express

Summary of complaint

1. Councillor Graham Wanstall complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Dover Express breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 3 (Privacy) in an article headlined “Dover Town councillor turns up to the VJ Day ceremony in dressing gown”, published online on 15 August 2015, and headlined “Councillor sports dressing gown in town after service”, published in print on 20 August 2015.

2. The articles reported that Cllr Wanstall appeared at the end of Dover’s Victory over Japan Day ceremony held outside the town’s council offices wearing a dressing gown. It also reported that he had been criticised for doing so, and that his appearance had been a “shock” to the crowd. The articles included a photograph of him wearing the dressing gown, and his explanation for his appearance; he had recently had a serious operation which meant that he was unable to put on other clothes. Further, he had been unaware that the ceremony had been taking place, and had simply been in the area on other business at the council offices. The article also included comments from the event’s organiser who said that those attending the ceremony had criticised Cllr Wanstall’s appearance, and that he had known the event was taking place since it had been advertised publicly, and had been discussed during council meetings.

3. The articles were substantially similar except for the headline and a slightly different wording in the reporting of the comments of the complainant.

4. The complainant said that the photograph of him had been taken without his consent and intruded into his privacy while he had been unwell, in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy). He said that it had been taken after the end of ceremony when most people had already left. At the time, the event was no longer “public”, and he therefore had a reasonable expectation of privacy.

5. The complainant was also concerned that the comments of the event’s organiser were inaccurate; he had not been aware that the event would be taking place, and the few people who saw him arrive in his dressing gown had shown concern rather than criticism.

6. The newspaper did not accept that the photograph of Cllr Wanstall intruded into his private life in breach of Clause 3. Cllr Wanstall had appeared wearing a dressing gown at an event open to the public, which had been held in a public place. He did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, and the photographer was therefore not obliged to seek consent to take the photograph. Given that the complainant had been in the area on council business, he would have been aware that he was in a public place regardless of whether the ceremony was taking place. The newspaper also noted that in an interview with a journalist prior to publication – and separately in a letter intended for publication – the complainant had explained that he had worn a dressing gown to the event because of his health concerns. The newspaper noted that in any case, there was a public interest in the scrutiny of public figures such as the complainant.

7. The newspaper said that it was not inaccurate to include the comments of the event’s organiser. They were clearly presented as such, and Cllr Wanstall’s comments were also included.

Relevant Code Provisions

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. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance.

iii) The press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Clause 3 (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 in private places without their consent. Note - Private places are public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Findings of the Committee

9. The photograph had been taken at a public ceremony held in a public place which was being covered by the press. The Committee acknowledged the complainant’s position that he was unaware that this event was taking place. He had, however, walked through a public place outside the town’s council offices to attend his other business. He could not reasonably claim that this was a private area in which he had an expectation of privacy, and there was no breach of Clause 3 on this point.

10. The complainant had disclosed to the newspaper specific information about his health concerns in an interview and in a letter for publication. Given that the complainant had willingly provided information about his health to the newspaper for publication, and bearing in mind that the photograph did not disclose information about his health beyond this, the Committee took the view that its publication did not constitute a failure to respect the privacy of the complainant. There was no breach of Clause 3 on this point.

11. The article included comments from Cllr Wanstall which made clear his explanation for his attendance in this clothing. The inclusion of comments critical of his decision were not misleading, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

Conclusions

12. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received: 17/09/2015
Date complaint concluded: 14/12/2015