Ruling

Resolution Statement 05955-18 Atherton v. thesun.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      22nd November 2018

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      3 Harassment

Resolution Statement 05955-18 Atherton v. thesun.co.uk

Summary of complaint

1. Margaret Atherton complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that thesun.co.uk had breached Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

2. The complainant was the subject of a high profile child safeguarding report. She said that a journalist from The Sun had visited her at her home and she had initially spoken to him, and then he called and messaged her for comment on the contents of the report. The complainant sent a message to the journalist which said that she didn’t want to speak, and requested that she was not contacted again. The journalist then sent a message to the complainant asking a further question. The complainant said that she was distressed by this further contact, and that the journalist had failed to respect her request to desist, in breach of Clause 3.

3. The newspaper said that it had the right to approach people for comment, especially when reporting on serious allegations. The newspaper said that a freelance journalist had introduced himself to the complainant, and that they talked a little about the story she was involved in, and she was offered the possibility of an interview to put across her side of the story. The publication said that the next day she did not answer the freelancer’s calls or texts.

4. The publication said it was sorry to hear that the complainant considered these approaches to constitute harassment, and confirmed that they did not intend to approach the complainant again. The publication said that they took steps to make sure that all their reporters were aware of their obligations under Clause 3.

Relevant Code Provisions

5. Clause 3 (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 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.

Public interest

There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.

1. The public interest includes, but is not confined to:

  • Detecting or exposing crime, or the threat of crime, or serious impropriety.
  • Protecting public health or safety.
  • Protecting the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.
  • Disclosing a person or organisation’s failure or likely failure to comply with any obligation to which they are subject.
  • Disclosing a miscarriage of justice.
  • Raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public.
  • Disclosing concealment, or likely concealment, of any of the above.

2. There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.

3. The regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will become so.

4. Editors invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they reasonably believed publication - or journalistic activity taken with a view to publication – would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest and explain how they reached that decision at the time.

5. An exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16.

Mediated outcome

6. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.

7. During IPSO’s investigation, the publication offered to send the complainant a private letter of apology.

8. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to her satisfaction.

9. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.

Date complaint received: 06/09/2018

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 01/11/2018