Ruling

06558-17 Young v Birmingham Mail

    • Date complaint received

      20th July 2017

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 06558-17 Young v Birmingham Mail

Summary of complaint

1. Joel Young complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Birmingham Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Disney TV producer harassed work rival with dozens of phone calls asking: ‘Why haven’t you killed yourself?’”, published on 21 March 2017.

2. The article reported that the complainant had admitted to harassing a “work rival” and impersonating a police officer, but that he had denied threatening him. It said that he had telephoned the victim more than 65 times over a five-and-a-half hour period, and that he had impersonated a police officer during the telephone calls. The article also included a recording of one of the telephone calls in which the complainant repeatedly asked the victim why he “hasn’t ‘killed himself’”. It reported that in court, the complainant had to be reprimanded by an usher “for blowing kisses and winking” towards the victim who was sitting in the public gallery.

3. The complainant said that the article was biased against him. He denied that he had been warned by the usher for winking and blowing kisses at the victim. He had merely been asked not to look at the public gallery as the victim walked in. Furthermore, the piece had failed to report his account of the victim’s conduct. In addition, the article had inaccurately reported that he was 40, rather than 30.

4. The complainant was also concerned that the newspaper had published a recording of one of his telephone calls with the victim without his consent. He had been unaware that he was being recorded and the recording had not been heard in court because he had admitted to his actions at the first opportunity. In addition, he said that the newspaper had published images of him which it had taken from his social media accounts without his consent and in breach of copyright.

5. The newspaper said that the article was an accurate report of court proceedings, and the information it had chosen to include was a matter of editorial discretion.

6. The newspaper said that the reporter had attended the court proceedings, and he had confirmed that before the magistrates had entered the court room, the complainant had been reprimanded for winking and blowing kisses at the victim. It did not consider that it was misleading that the article had not included the complainant’s account of the victim’s conduct.

7. The newspaper did not consider that it was significant whether the complainant was 30 or 40 years old, but given the concerns raised, it offered to amend this in the article.

8. The newspaper said that the recording had shown the complainant making one of the 65 phone calls for which he was convicted. Although the recording of the phone call was not heard in court, it had formed part of the behaviour for which the complainant was convicted. The newspaper did not consider that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy over behaviour of this kind; the publication of the recording was justified in the public interest.

9. With regards to the photographs, the newspaper said that the images had been taken from the complainant’s open Facebook account, which remained accessible to the public. It did not consider that the images had shown the complainant engaged in a private activity, nor had they revealed any private information about him.

Relevant Code provisions

10. Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.

iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.

iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

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. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information.

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Findings of the Committee

11. There was a dispute between the parties as to whether the complainant had been reprimanded for “blowing kisses and winking” towards the victim who was in the public gallery of the court room, and the Committee was unable to reconcile the differing positions. However, it was accepted that before the proceedings began, the complainant had been asked by the court usher not to look at the public gallery where the victim was seated. In the full context of the article, which accurately reported that the complainant had pleaded guilty to harassment and which detailed the nature of his offence, the Committee did not consider that the reason for the request, as reported in the article, was significantly misleading. Furthermore, the Editors’ Code does not contain a requirement for impartiality. The newspaper was not obliged to report the complainant’s account of the victim’s conduct. These points did not raise a breach of Clause 1.

12. It was accepted that the complainant’s age had been inaccurately reported. The Committee welcomed the newspaper’s offer to amend the online article accordingly, but this was not a significant point that required correction under the terms of Clause 1.

13. The recording of the complainant’s telephone call to the victim had not been heard in court, and the complainant had not consented to its publication. However, the Committee did not consider that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding a recording of part of the course of conduct for which he was later convicted in open court. There was no breach of Clause 2 on this point.

14. The newspaper had published images taken from the complainant’s Facebook page, which showed his face. He was not engaged in a private activity in the photographs, and their publication had not disclosed private information about him. Furthermore, copyright is a legal matter and therefore concerns in this regard are not for consideration under the Code. There was no breach of Clause 2.

Conclusion

15. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

16. N/A

Date complaint received: 25/04/2017
Date decision issued: 04/07/2017