Ruling

06088-15 Slade v The Argus (Brighton)

    • Date complaint received

      7th December 2015

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 06088-15 Slade v The Argus (Brighton)

Summary of complaint

1. Laura Slade complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Argus breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Activists’ threats force charity to cancel fundraiser”, in print, and headlined “Animal rights activists’ threats force children’s charity to cancel fundraiser”, online, published on 2 June 2015.

2. Both the print and online version of the article reported that a charity had cancelled a fundraising event to be held at a greyhound stadium following a campaign from an animal welfare group. The article reported that activists from an animal welfare group sent a “series of aggressive messages”, and claimed that it was a “vicious social media campaign”. It also reported the comments from the coordinator of the group in response to the concerns about the campaign, and stated that the complainant was a “driving force behind” it. It claimed that the complainant had tweeted 33 times and made 9 Facebook posts about the event, and that she had shared the contact details of the charity’s chief executive, fundraisers and PR executives and urged colleagues to contact them. It also reported that the newspaper had made repeated attempts to contact the complainant for comment, but that she did not respond. Both the print and online version of the article were accompanied by a photograph of the complainant.

3. The complainant said it was inaccurate to report that the newspaper had made repeated attempts to contact her. She said that the reporting was biased against the campaigners, and used sensational language. She said that had the newspaper contacted her prior to publication, she would have refused permission for the use of her photograph, and would have provided her version of events, including her position that her activity did not constitute a “vicious social media campaign”, that her communications were polite, and that she had only reproduced the charity’s contact details which were easily available elsewhere online.

4. The complainant raised her concerns about the article with the newspaper on the day it was published. She requested a published statement to clarify a number of points, including that: she had not been contacted prior to publication; her communications during the campaign had been polite and accurate; she was not associated with extreme animal rights activities; the charity had had repeated opportunities to resolve the issue quietly and amicably with the welfare campaigners; she had thanked the charity when it cancelled the event, and made a donation. The newspaper published a follow-up article the next day which included her denial that her activity amounted to a social media “hate campaign”, her comments on why she had participated in the campaign, and her comment that when the charity’s CEO told her that the event was cancelled, she thanked him and made a donation. She said that the follow up article was not a retraction, still referred to “activists”, and did not meet any of the requests she had made.

5. The newspaper said it found a telephone number for a “Laura Slade” in Surrey, where it knew she lived, via an electoral roll check. It said that it had attempted to call this number several times on the day before the article was published, but did not receive a response. The newspaper said a reporter sent the complainant a Facebook message and made a friend request in an effort to ensure it reached the right inbox. It also asked the animal welfare group for the complainant’s telephone number, but they declined to pass it on. The newspaper said it reported the complainant’s response the day after the article under complaint was published.

6. The complainant said that she was working from home the day before the article was published, and was not called on her landline. She said that the animal welfare group declined to pass on her number in order to comply with the Data Protection Act. The complainant said that contact via Facebook was unreliable. She said that she does not accept friend requests from people she did not know, and she is not notified of Facebook messages received from non-Facebook friends, which go in to a separate inbox. She said that she only found the Facebook message from the reporter in September. The complainant noted that the reporter began following her on Twitter, at which point she tweeted the reporter asking “see you are following me – any particular reason?”, but did not receive a response. She said that an internet search for her name would have taken the reporter to her LinkedIn page, from which she could have been contacted, and that the LinkedIn page contained a link to her website, from which she also could have been contacted.

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.

iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Clause 2 (Opportunity for reply)

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

Findings of the Committee

8. The Committee had previously considered and ruled on a complaint from the coordinator of the animal welfare group about the same article (Baker v The Argus). The Committee declined to consider those aspects of this complaint which related to the nature of the campaign. However, the article made particular claims about Laura Slade, the complainant in this instance, and it was appropriate for the Committee to consider those aspects of her complaint.

9. There is no specific requirement under the Code for publications to contact the subjects of coverage prior to publication, although it may be necessary in some instances to ensure that care is taken to comply with Clause 1 (i). In this instance, the claims in the article about the complainant related to comments she had left on social media. The complainant did not dispute having made these comments, and they were available in the public domain. The fact that the newspaper had not successfully contacted the complainant prior to publication in relation to these claims did not amount to a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information. Further, the omission of comments from the complainant setting out her position did not render the article inaccurate, misleading or otherwise distorted. There was no breach of Clause 1 (i) on this point.

10. The complainant had also disputed broader points relating to the coverage of the campaign as a whole. The Committee noted that the newspaper had contacted the co-ordinator of the group that had launched the campaign and had included in the article her comments about the group’s purpose and her response to the claims by the charity’s chief executive. There was no breach of Clause 1 in relation to the broader claims about the conduct of the campaign.

11. The Committee noted that the newspaper had tried to contact the complainant via Facebook, through the animal welfare group, and by calling a telephone number it believed was the complainant’s. It was not significantly misleading to report that it had made “repeated attempts” to do so. Further, it was not inaccurate to report that the complainant had not responded to these attempts. No correction was required under Clause 1 (ii) on these points. Nonetheless, the Committee took the opportunity to express some concern about the extent of the newspaper’s attempts to contact the complainant; had it been necessary for it to make efforts to obtain the complainant’s comments before publication, these might not have been sufficient to fulfil its obligations under Clause 1 (i).

12. In addition, whether or not the contact details of individuals involved with the charity were publicly available, it was not inaccurate or misleading to report that the complainant had shared these details, and urged people to contact them. The use of the complainant’s photograph in proximity to a headline referring to “animal rights activists”, was not misleading where the complainant had participated in a public campaign organised by a greyhound welfare campaign. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

13. Clause 2 requires that newspaper offer a fair opportunity to respond to published inaccuracies when reasonably called for. In this instance, no significant inaccuracies had been established, and the terms of Clause 2 were not engaged.

Conclusions

14. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received: 05/10/2015
Dare decision Issued: 07/12/2015