Ruling

05608-15 Hyland-Ward v The Argus (Brighton)

    • Date complaint received

      11th February 2016

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee 05608-15 Hyland-Ward v The Argus (Brighton)

Summary of complaint

1. Ben Hyland-Ward complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Argus breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 3 (Privacy) in an article headlined “Update: teenager arrested on suspicion of fraud following Bestival ticket upset”, published online on 12 September 2015.

2. The article reported that the complainant had been “arrested after taking thousands of pounds from his friends in payment for festival tickets which he failed to provide”. It reported that it was understood that the complainant had been questioned by police “on suspicion of fraud by false representation”. The article included a photograph of the complainant, with a caption which appeared to have been published in error; the wording was that of an internal note which included the complainant’s phone number, and a brief sentence stating that he had “scammed hundreds of people out of money for fake tickets to Bestival”.

3. The complainant was concerned that the publication of his phone number intruded into his privacy, in breach of Clause 3. He was particularly concerned given the nature of the article’s subject matter, and because he normally took great care over who he gave his phone number to.

4. Complaining under Clause 1, the complainant said that the publication of his phone number was irrelevant to the story, and that the wording of the caption explaining the allegations against him inaccurately suggested that he was guilty of having “scammed” customers, when in fact the matter was still under police investigation.

5. Before making his complaint, the complainant informally contacted IPSO to explain his concerns. IPSO contacted the newspaper on the complainant’s behalf, to make it aware of his position. The newspaper said it had also become independently aware of the caption, and subsequently removed it.

6. On receipt of the complaint, the newspaper did not accept that the publication of the complainant’s phone number intruded into his privacy. It confirmed that the caption had been published by mistake, and that it had removed it as soon as it became aware of the error. It said that, overall, the caption remained online for no more than a few hours. The newspaper said it understood that the complainant normally carried out his business over the phone, and that a source had informed it that “hundreds” of his customers would have had his phone number.

Relevant Code Provisions

7. 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

8. The Committee accepted that the caption had been published in error. This did not, however, excuse the newspaper from its obligations under the Code. The Committee started from the point of view that an individual’s personal mobile telephone number generally constitutes private information.

9. Under the terms of the Code, account will be taken of a complainant’s own public disclosures of information, and the extent to which information is established in the public domain. In this instance, however, there was no evidence (beyond an assertion that the telephone number was known by “hundreds” of people) that the complainant had publicly disclosed the information, and nor was it known to be established in the public domain, for example through its appearance in an advertisement or other commercial activity. The newspaper had accepted that the number had been published in error, and had not sought to justify its publication on public interest or other grounds.

10. In the full circumstances, the Committee took the view that the publication of this information, although inadvertent, represented a failure to respect the complainant’s private life, in breach of Clause 3.

11. At the time of publication, the complainant had only been facing allegations of fraud in relation to the sale of festival tickets; the newspaper had an obligation to make this clear in its coverage. The Committee noted with concern the statement in the caption (again, apparently published in error) that the complainant had “scammed” customers, and the article’s claims that he had been arrested “after taking thousands of pounds […] for festival tickets which he failed to provide”. However, in circumstances where the caption had clearly been published in error and had appeared online for only a short period of time, and given that the article and headline had made clear that the complainant had only been arrested “on suspicion” of fraud, the Committee took the view that the article overall did not misleadingly suggest that he was guilty of fraud. Further, while the Committee noted the complainant’s position that his phone number was “irrelevant” to the coverage, its publication did not render the article inaccurate, misleading or distorted. There was no breach of Clause 1.

Conclusions

12. The complaint was upheld under Clause 3 (Privacy).

Remedial Action Required

In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or adjudication. Given the nature of the breach of Clause 3 established, the appropriate remedial action was publication of an adjudication. The original article was published online only. The adjudication should be published on the newspaper’s website, and a link to the adjudication should be published on the homepage of the newspaper’s website for at least 24 hours, and thereafter archived on the website in the usual way. The headline to the adjudication should include the words “IPSO complaint upheld” and should make reference to the subject matter of the original article; it should be agreed with IPSO in advance. The terms of the adjudication to be published are as follows:

Following an article published online in The Argus on 12 September 2015, headlined “Update: teenager arrested on suspicion of fraud following Bestival ticket upset”, Ben Hyland-Ward complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) that The Argus intruded into his privacy in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. IPSO upheld the complaint and established a breach of the Editors’ Code. IPSO required The Argus to publish this decision by its Complaints Committee as a remedy to the breach.

The article reported that the complainant had been “arrested after taking thousands of pounds from his friends in payment for festival tickets which he failed to provide”, and that the complainant had been questioned by police “on suspicion of fraud by false representation”. The article included a photograph of the complainant, with a caption which contained the complainant’s phone number.

The complainant was concerned that the publication of his phone number intruded into his privacy, in breach of Clause 3.

The newspaper did not accept that the publication of the complainant’s phone number intruded into his privacy. It said that the caption had been published by mistake, and that it had removed it as soon as it became aware of the error. Further, a source had informed it that “hundreds” of his customers would have had his phone number.

The Committee accepted that the caption had been published in error. This did not, however, excuse the newspaper from its obligations under the Code. The Committee started from the point of view that an individual’s personal mobile telephone number generally constitutes private information.

Under the terms of the Code, account will be taken of a complainant’s own public disclosures of information, and the extent to which information is established in the public domain. In this instance, however, there was no evidence (beyond an assertion that the telephone number was known by “hundreds” of people) that the complainant had publicly disclosed the information, and nor was it known to be established in the public domain. The newspaper had accepted that the number had been published in error, and had not sought to justify its publication on public interest or other grounds.

In the full circumstances, the Committee took the view that the publication of this information, although inadvertent, represented a failure to respect the complainant’s private life, in breach of Clause 3.

Date complaint received: 12/09/15
Date decision issued: 11/02/16