Ruling

05173-15 Swinarska v That’s Life

    • Date complaint received

      11th January 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock, 5 Reporting suicide, 6 Children

Decision of the Complaints Committee 05173-15 Swinarska v That’s Life

Summary of complaint

1. Marta Swinarska complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that That’s Life! had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply), Clause 3 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Harassment), Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock), and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Snatched”, published on 21 August 2015.

2. The article was a first-person account of a dispute given by the complainant’s former partner over the custody of their two children. The article stated that the complainant had taken one of their daughters from their home in Cyprus to Poland, and had refused to return her despite two court orders stating that the child should live with her father. Her former partner described how he finally located the complainant and their daughter in Poland, and took the child back to Cyprus. The article stated that the complainant had pleaded guilty in a Cypriot court to child abduction, and received an 18-month suspended sentence.

3. The complainant said that the published account was inaccurate, and noted that the court cases were ongoing. She said she had pleaded guilty to child abduction in Cyprus in April 2015 because she needed to return to her job in Poland; she was not guilty. She considered that the magazine had failed to report her account of the dispute: she provided a statement that she had given to the Cypriot family court, in which she had raised concerns about her former partner’s parenting, and had made serious allegations about his conduct. She said the children had been “snatched” from her, not from him. The complainant said that a previous newspaper article, upon which the magazine had based its piece, had also given a misleading account of the events leading up to her daughter’s removal from Poland to Cyprus.

4. The complainant said she had not been contacted before the article was published in breach of Clause 2, and she had not agreed to have her or her children’s photographs published in breach of Clause 3 and Clause 6. She said the article represented harassment in breach of Clause 4, and an intrusion into her and her family’s grief in breach of Clause 5.

5. The magazine said that a newspaper had supplied the story, which had also featured on a television programme. Before publishing the story, the magazine said it had interviewed the complainant’s former partner at length. It had not contacted the complainant for her comment because it did not have her contact details. It noted that it had not published the complainant’s comments, which were included in the previous newspaper coverage, but at that time it understood that she had not raised any concerns about the accuracy of that article, and it similarly considered that its piece had been accurate.

6. The magazine said the complainant’s former partner had disputed her allegations of misconduct. It considered that had those allegations been accepted in court, he would not have been awarded custody of the children.

7. It noted that the complainant did not dispute that a court in Poland had ordered the complainant to return her daughter to her father. Furthermore, it said it had seen a copy of the order from the Cypriot family court, dated 18 May 2015, which awarded custody to the father, pending the trial. During IPSO’s investigation, the magazine provided translations of Polish court documents, dated 12 October 2012, which stated that on 25 September 2012 the court had ordered the compulsory removal of the child from the complainant, but the complainant had not complied with the order.

8. The magazine considered that it had been entitled to rely on the fact of the complainant’s conviction, despite her contention that she was not guilty. As it believed that the article was accurate, it said that an opportunity to reply was not required, but it offered to publish a letter from the complainant on its letters page as a potential means to resolve the matter.

9. The magazine said that the children’s father had provided the photographs of the children and had given his consent to their publication; it did not consider that it had needed the complainant’s consent to publish her photograph. It did not believe that the article represented harassment or an intrusion into the complainant’s grief.

10. On receipt of the court documents provided by the magazine, the complainant provided further court documents in Polish, which she said demonstrated that the previous court order had been revoked. These documents related to a court decision made on 26 August 2013.

Relevant Code Provisions

11. 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 2 (Opportunity to reply)

A fair opportunity for reply to inaccuracies must be given when reasonably called for.

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.

Clause 4 (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 their 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 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock)

i. In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings, such as inquests.

ii. When reporting suicide, care should be taken to avoid excessive detail about the method used.

Clause 6 (Children)

i. Young people should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.

ii. A child under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child's welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.

iii. Pupils must not be approached or photographed at school without the permission of the school authorities.

iv. Minors must not be paid for material involving children's welfare, nor parents or guardians for material about their children or wards, unless it is clearly in the child's interest.

v. Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child's private life.

Findings of the Committee

12. It was not in dispute that the complainant had taken her child from Cyprus to Poland, and had failed to comply with two court orders, which stated that the child should be returned to her father. It was also accepted that her former partner had taken steps to locate the child and had taken her back into his custody, and that the complainant had pleaded guilty to child abduction in a court in Cyprus. These details, which the magazine had accurately reported, were supported by the court documents supplied by the magazine during IPSO’s investigation.

13. In circumstances in which the central aspects of the story had been reported accurately, the omission of the complainant’s version of those events was not significantly misleading. The Committee was satisfied that there was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article. No significant inaccuracies were identified by the complaint. The complaint under Clause 1 was not upheld.

14. Clause 2 provides for an opportunity to reply to inaccuracies, post-publication. The magazine was not obliged to contact the complainant for her comment before the article was published. Furthermore, in response to the complaint, the magazine had offered to publish a letter from the complainant on its letters page. There was no breach of Clause 2.

15. The magazine had published images of the complainant, which showed her face, and which had been supplied by her former partner. It had not disclosed any private information in breach of Clause 3.

16. While the complainant considered that her former partner’s account was inaccurate, its publication did not represent harassment or an intrusion into her grief under the terms of the Code. There was no breach of Clause 4 or Clause 5.

17. The children’s father had supplied images of the children, and had agreed to their publication. There was no breach of Clause 6.

Conclusions

18. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received: 22/08/2015
Date decision issued: 11/01/2016