Ruling

05416-15 Wyn v Cambrian News

    • Date complaint received

      25th January 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 10 Clandestine devices and subterfuge, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 05416-15 Wyn v Cambrian News

Summary of complaint

1. Hefin Wyn complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Cambrian News had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) and Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Castle trustee quits over ‘online harassment’, published on 19 August 2015.

2. The article reported that a trustee of Cardigan Castle had resigned from his role because he had “suffered ‘months of online harassment’ from a local opposition group”. It stated that a group called Cyfeillion Rhys ap Gruffudd, headed by the complainant, had been accused of “constantly attacking” aspects of the redevelopment of the castle.

3. The complainant said that the newspaper had wrongly implied that he had been responsible for harassing the Cardigan Castle trustee. He said the newspaper had failed to provide any evidence to support the allegation. He supplied the press release, upon which the article was based, circulated by a PR company on behalf of Cardigan Castle, and noted that it had not named him or his group in relation to the trustee’s allegations. He also noted that the article had not stated that the trustee had identified him as being responsible for the harassment. The complainant considered that harassment was defined as behaviour that “demeans, threatens or offends the victim and results in a hostile environment for the victim”. He said the comments he had made online had contained no such content, and neither had the emails that he had sent directly to the trustee, which had not been seen “online”. He said the police had informed him that they had received no complaints of harassment against him.

4. The complainant said that the newspaper had given him insufficient time to respond to what was a potentially serious allegation. It had contacted him for his comment by email “almost immediately” before the article was published. He could not provide a copy of that email, but he said that he had been asked to comment on the trustee’s decision to resign because of “online harassment” and “virtual persecution”; it had not been put to him that the allegation related to his or his group’s actions. Although he accepted that he had been critical of the castle’s trustees “as a body”, no individuals had been targeted. He also noted that he had recently paid compliment to this particular trustee as a lecturer. He said that as the newspaper had provided no background information to the story, he had understood that the trustee’s decision to resign had nothing to do with him, and he informed it that he did not wish to comment. He had not been “unavailable for comment”, as reported.

5. In addition, the complainant said that the newspaper had inaccurately reported that his group had set up a petition calling for the reinstatement of Cardigan Castle’s director, who had previously been suspended. He said his group had supported the petition, but it had not created it; the inaccuracy was significant because it further implied that his group had been a “negative influence”. The complainant raised his concerns with the newspaper, requested an apology and an opportunity to reply.

6. The newspaper considered that it had been entitled to report that the trustee had found the criticism of the castle project distressing and that it had led to his resignation. It said that the trustee had provided several messages from the complainant, which he had said had left him “feeling harassed”. He had also confirmed that the complainant’s group had been among those who he felt were “attacking him” and had put his family “under pressure”. The newspaper did not have permission to provide those emails to IPSO; however, it considered that it was certain that the complainant’s group had been a leader in the criticisms of the castle project, and that those criticisms had continued over several months and “quite vociferously”. It provided some of the complainant’s Facebook posts to support this position.

7. The newspaper said it had requested the complainant’s comment on the allegation by email at 11.58am on the day the article was published. Like the complainant, it was unable to provide IPSO with a copy of that email, but it said that it had put it to him that his organisation was one of those accused of online harassment. In the thirty minutes preceding that email being sent, the newspaper said it had called the complainant’s mobile phone three times, but the calls had not been answered and there was no answerphone. At 1.34pm, the complainant replied to the newspaper’s email, stating that he did not wish to comment until he knew the content of the article, but the piece had been sent to press at 1.15pm.

8. In his 1.34pm response, the complainant asked whether his group was one of those that the trustee was “getting tired of”, and said “I suppose you can use the term spokesperson but I would prefer to know exactly what [the trustee] has been saying”. The newspaper considered that these comments demonstrated that the complainant had been told and understood that the allegations related to his group’s actions.

9. As the article had already been published, the newspaper told the complainant that it would be happy to publish his response to the article the following week. It offered to publish the following wording:

I and Cyfeillion Rhys ap Gruffudd have not been responsible for the 'online harrassment' of Glen Johnson thus forcing him to quit as a Cadwgan Trustee. My correspondence [with Glen] was in response to comments and facts posted on Glen's own Facebook which were inaccurate regarding the development of Castell Aberteifi with which he is involved. Cyfeillion Rhys ap Gruffudd are not an opposition group. Cyfeillion are in favour of developing the heritage aspects of the castle and are of the opinion the current plans are flawed.

The complainant declined the offer on the basis that he had not been provided with evidence to support the allegations. Instead, he requested the publication of the following wording:

My friend, Glen Johnson, looks remarkably healthy and chirpy for an ‘on-line harassed’ historian. I am glad that he still carries on with his vast amount of voluntary work at Castell Aberteifi oblivious to all the alleged harassment. ‘Rhwng gwŷr Pentyrch a’i gilydd’, say I. Cyfeillion Rhys ap Gruffudd remain committed to the application of a thoroughly creative Welsh imagination at Castell Aberteifi.

10. The newspaper published the complainant’s statement in a follow-up piece, omitting the first two sentences as it considered that they were inappropriate. The complainant considered that this omission had distorted his position.

11. The newspaper accepted that the complainant’s group had not set up the petition, and offered to publish the following wording:

In an article in the Cambrian News of 20 August 2015, headlined “Castle trustee quits over ‘online harrassment’”, it was stated that The Cyfeillion Rhys ap Grufudd had set up a petition calling for the reinstatement of castle director Cris Tomos. While Hefin Wyn of Cyfeillion had been campaigning for Mr Tomos’ reinstatement, the petition was not in fact set up by the group. We are happy to set the record straight.

12. During IPSO’s investigation, the newspaper also offered to publish a 400-word letter from the complainant, focusing on his group and its vision for Cardigan Castle, and it offered to add the following note to the article online:

Editor's note:

Since this article was published, Hefin Wyn has disputed our report that "nobody from Cyfeillion Rhys ap Gruffudd was available to comment". Whilst it is true that we were unable to contact Mr Wyn in time for our publishing deadline, he has asked us to clarify that he was available after the deadline, but he chose not to comment on the story. Mr Wyn also denies harrassing Mr Johnson.

Mr Wyn has also told us that the petition for the reinstatement of Castle director Cris Tomas was not organised by Cyfeillion. He says that whilst Cyfeillion supported the reinstatement petition, it did not organise it. We are happy to clarify these issues.

The complainant did not accept the newspaper’s offer as a resolution, and proposed some alternative wording for a published apology.

Relevant Code Provisions

13. 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 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge)

i. The press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices; or by intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, messages or emails; or by the unauthorised removal of documents or photographs; or by accessing digitally-held private information without consent.

ii. Engaging in misrepresentation or subterfuge, including by agents or intermediaries, can generally be justified only in the public interest and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means.

Findings of the Committee

13. The newspaper had been entitled to report information given on a Cardigan Castle press release, which said that a trustee had resigned from his role at the castle as a result of online harassment from “a local opposition group”. The newspaper had contacted the trustee to confirm which group his allegations concerned.

14. The Committee noted that the complainant denied that his group had been responsible for harassing the trustee online. However, the complainant accepted that his group had been critical of the direction of the Cardigan Castle project and the decisions of its trust, and he had voiced those criticisms online and by email to the trustee.

15. The Committee acknowledged the references to “online harassment” and “virtual persecution” in the article and its headline. However, the article had made clear that it had been the criticisms of the project, rather than personal criticisms of the trustee, that had led the trustee to feel “harassed” and to his resignation. In particular, the Committee did not accept that the article had suggested that the actions of the complainant or his group had amounted to harassment in a legal or criminal sense. The article had clearly stated that the group had been accused of attacking “certain aspects of the [castle] project”, and it included examples of the trust’s decisions about which the complainant’s group had been critical. As such, the Committee was satisfied that the newspaper had not created a significantly misleading impression of the nature of the alleged “online harassment” in breach of Clause 1. There had been no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article on this point.

16. The Committee was concerned that the newspaper had failed to retain a copy of the email it had sent to the complainant requesting his comment, and that it had sent this request just 75 minutes before the article’s publication. However, the newspaper had also tried to contact the complainant by telephone. Given that he had not responded at the time of publication, it was not significantly misleading for the newspaper to report that he had been “unavailable for comment”. This point did not represent a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1 (i). Furthermore, the omission of the complainant’s denial that his group’s criticisms could reasonably be characterised as harassment was not significantly misleading.

17. It was accepted that the complainant’s group had not set up a petition calling for the reinstatement of a Cardigan Castle director. However, as the group had supported the petition, in the full context of the article, this did not represent a significant inaccuracy that required correction under the terms of the Code. Nonetheless, the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s offer to address this point in a published correction. The complaint under Clause 1 was not upheld.

18. The terms of Clause 2 provide people with a fair opportunity to respond to published inaccuracies. The Committee had not established the existence of inaccuracies in the article. However, it welcomed the newspaper’s offer to publish a statement from the complainant setting out his position. There was no breach of Clause 2.

19.There was no suggestion that the newspaper had obtained material using clandestine devices or subterfuge. The complaint did not engage Clause 10.

Conclusions

20. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received: 30/08/2015
Date decision issued: 25/01/2016