Ruling

05577-15 A man v The Herald (Glasgow)

    • Date complaint received

      27th January 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 11 Victims of sexual assault, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock

Decision of the Complaints Committee 05577-15 A man v The Herald (Glasgow)

Summary of complaint

1. A man complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, through a representative, that the Herald (Glasgow) breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply), Clause 3 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Harassment) and Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article published in 2015.

2. The article reported that a defendant had been found not guilty of an allegation of sexual assault; she had been accused of rubbing her breasts against the complainant at a party.

3. The complainant said that, although the article had not named him, it had included sufficient detail for him to be identified as an alleged victim of sexual assault: it had described him as a “mutual friend” of the defendant and another named friend, and noted the estate in which the alleged assault had taken place. He lives in a small community and has a close circle of friends. The complainant said that the article breached Clause 11 of the Editors’ Code. He had also complained about a number of other articles which reported the outcome of the case, some of which had named him. The complainant said that the fact that he had been named by other newspapers meant that he could be identified from the article in the Herald.

4. The complainant also said that the article had been biased towards the defendant, and included claims made in evidence which the complainant said were inaccurate; this breached Clause 1. He said that he had not been offered a right to reply to the allegations, and that this breached Clause 2. He said that the article revealed that he had been sexually assaulted, which was private information, in breach of Clause 3. Lastly, he said that publication of the article constituted harassment, in breach of Clause 4.

5. The newspaper did not believe that a general reader would have been able to identify the complainant, although it said that, because of the nature of the case, some people in the local community would already have known of the complainant’s involvement: it had been heard in court that discussion of the incident locally had prompted the complainant to contact police. The newspaper also noted that the sheriff, in his judgment, had said that he could not find beyond reasonable doubt that the alleged offender was guilty of a criminal assault, “far less a sexual one”.

6. The newspaper said that the freelance reporter who had provided the copy had been in court to hear the outcome of the case, and it provided shorthand notes and a transcript of the sheriff’s summing up of the case. It did not believe that its coverage was inaccurate.

7. The complainant asked the newspaper to apologise to him for the distress caused by the article.

Relevant Code Provisions

8. 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) 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.

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.

Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault)

The press must not identify victims of sexual assault or publish material likely to contribute to such identification unless there is adequate justification and they are legally free to do so.

Findings of the Committee

9. The Committee found that the details included in the article were not likely to contribute to the identification of the alleged victim. The fact that other newspapers had named the complainant did not mean that the details published by this newspaper contributed to his identification. There was no breach of Clause 11.

10. The Committee then considered the complainant’s additional concerns. The newspaper’s role was to accurately report the proceedings as heard in court; it was not required to independently investigate the accuracy of the statements heard there. While the complainant evidently disagreed with some of the claims made in court, this disagreement did not raise a breach of Clause 1. Further, in the absence of any established inaccuracies an opportunity to reply was not required; there was no breach of Clause 2.

11. The information included in the article had been heard in open court, and so the newspaper had been entitled to report it, so long as it did not include material likely to contribute to the identification of the complainant. As the Committee had found that the article had not included such material, there was no intrusion into the complainant’s private life; there was no breach of Clause 3.

12. The terms of Clause 4 generally relate to the conduct of journalists and photographers during the newsgathering process. The concern that the article represented harassment did not engage the terms of Clause 4.

Conclusions

13. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received: 17/11/2015
Date decision issued: 27/01/2016