Ruling

06148-18 Sherief v The Sunday Times

    • Date complaint received

      20th December 2018

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 06148-18 Sherief v The Sunday Times

Summary of Complaint 

1.    Adam Sherief complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sunday Times breached Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Army 'tosses aside' elite forces officer over £250 fiddle” published on 8 July 2018. 

2.    The article reported that the complainant had “improperly obtained” a sum of money from a fund that pays for social functions for soldiers at the headquarters of a military organisation in a named location. The article stated the complainant’s rank within the army, and described his regiment and its role. It described how he had been dismissed from the army at a military court hearing after pleading guilty to “conduct prejudicial to good order and service discipline”. It went on to give the complainant’s views, in which he expressed regret at his actions and dismissal, and to describe the offence in more detail. It included a photograph of the complainant in his uniform. 

3.    The article appeared in the same format online. 

4.    The complainant said that the article breached Clause 2 (Privacy) because, by naming his rank, regiment, work location, and affiliation with a branch of the armed forces, it had put his security at risk. He said that the court had only heard information about his job title and rank, and not about his regiment, work location or affiliation with a specific branch of the armed forces – this information had been passed to the publication by the Services Prosecuting Authority. He also said that the photograph included in the article had been taken from his private Facebook profile, and that, taken with the information about his regiment and work location, its inclusion in the article posed a security risk, by making him identifiable. In addition, he said that the article was having a damaging effect on his life and livelihood. 

5.    The publication denied any breach of Clause 2 (Privacy). It said that its reporter had taken steps prior to publication to establish whether any reporting restrictions were in place regarding the complainant’s military court hearing. The reporter had been told by the relevant authorities that the only restriction related to the identity of the complainant’s commanding officer, which had not been included in the article. With respect to the photograph of the complainant, the publication said that its picture editor had been able to access this photograph from the complainant’s Facebook profile, as a member of the general public might have done. It said that, whilst the photograph was no longer available online, several other photographs showing his likeness were readily available.

Relevant Code Provisions 

6. Clause 2 (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. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.

Findings of the Committee 

7. The complainant’s case had been heard in military court. Information revealed in court is in the public domain, and, in accordance with the principles of open justice, the publication was entitled to report it. The publication had also obtained and published information obtained from the Services Prosecuting Authority, which its reporter had contacted to ascertain whether any reporting restrictions were in place. The Committee noted that, while IPSO does not enforce reporting restrictions, the existence of a reporting restriction might affect an individual’s expectation of privacy in relation to the restricted information. In this instance, however, it was accepted that the only reporting restriction imposed in relation to the hearing was with respect to the identity of the complainant’s commanding officer – information which was not included in the article. As no restriction applied to reporting on the remainder of the information, publishing this information did not reveal any details over which the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy. In any event, the Committee did not consider that this information, about the complainant’s rank, regiment, work location, and affiliation with a branch of the armed forces, was private information about him. In these circumstances, reporting these details did not represent a breach of Clause 2 (Privacy). 

8. The complainant did not dispute the publication’s account of obtaining his photograph from his Facebook profile; it appeared likely, therefore, that the photograph had been placed in the public domain by the complainant at some point in time. The inclusion of this photograph did not reveal private information about the complainant: it showed that he was a member of the armed forces, and his likeness. In circumstances where he had appeared in court, and his job role had been referred to in proceedings, this did not represent private information over which the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy; there was no breach of Clause 2 on this point. The Committee noted that this photograph had in any event been removed from the online article.

Conclusions 

9.    The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required 1

10.    N/A

Date complaint received: 18/09/2018

Date decision issued: 30/11/2018