Ruling

06585-17 Mclean v New!

    • Date complaint received

      21st September 2017

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination

Decision of the Complaints Committee 06585-17 Mclean v New!

Summary of complaint

1. Nicola McLean complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that New! breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in relation to an article headlined “Stressed Danielle: ‘Nicola is a Bully!’, published on 1 May 2017.

2. The article reported that there was an ongoing “feud” between the complainant and a model. It reported that the complainant had “persistently attacked” the model, who was pregnant at the time, on Twitter. It included the opinion of an unnamed source that the complainant was a "bully” and that her behaviour had caused the model to become stressed and to suffer from panic attacks. The source claimed that this led to her “fleeing” the UK and seeking legal action – “some kind of injunction under social media harassment or police intervention with harassment.” The article also reported that the model had posted a video on social media whilst she was on holiday with her family, in which they chanted “blocking out the haters”.

3. The article reported that the model’s brother had tweeted a meme which appeared to mock a disabled child, and that the complainant had criticised him in a retweet. It included comment made on behalf of the complainant that she “has been badly trolled by [the model’s] brother in the past year over her weight, her looks and the squint she has in her eye. And he seems to like mocking people who have disabilities or illnesses. Someone took a screenshot of what he retweeted about [the child] and sent it to [the complainant]. She was disgusted that he would mock a child with disabilities so she wanted to highlight it.” The article reported on tweets posted by the model in response to this, in which she accused the complainant of having “serious problems” and that she “needs help”.

4. The article was published on page twenty four of the magazine and trailed on the front page with the title “Pregnant Danielle ‘Keep bully Nicola away from me!’“. It was published online in substantively the same format.

5. The complainant said that the article was misleading and inaccurately characterised her as a “bully” who had caused a pregnant woman to “flee” the country in order to avoid alleged online abuse. She said that she had not bullied the model, and that she had in fact been the victim of targeted bullying on social media by the model’s family. She said that the legal action referred to in the article was in relation to another issue. The complainant questioned the reliability of the source of this information and was particularly concerned about the detrimental effect that the article may have on her career. She also said that the reference to her as a “bully” was in breach of Clause 12.

6. The complainant said that her representative was not provided with a fair opportunity to comment on the allegations published, and that she was only asked by the publication to comment broadly on the “Twitter spat” between the model and complainant, and the “backlash” that she had received. The complainant said that her representative had been misled by the questions asked, which resulted in her providing a comment which was not relevant to the claims presented in the article.

7. The magazine apologised for any distress caused to the complainant, but did not accept that there had been a breach of the Code. It said that the disagreements between the model and the complainant were long-standing and publicly apparent on social media, and that the article was an accurate report of this. It said that it had received the information from a source close to the model that she was going on holiday at short notice, as she was stressed about the situation with the complainant, who she perceived to be bullying her. The magazine said that as this information was received from a trusted source, and in combination with the video posted on social media, it was not necessary to seek further corroboration of the claim; which was subjective in any event.

8. The magazine noted that the complainant had previously been called a bully on social media. It provided evidence of tweets from members of the public which illustrated this, and also in which they were commenting on the “feud” between the two. The magazine also said that a well-placed source provided it with the information that the model had “sought her lawyer’s advice” in order to take legal action against the complainant in the form of an injunction. The magazine said that it had no reason to doubt the veracity of the claim.

9. The magazine said that it contacted the complainant’s representative for comment and published her statement in full. It asked her if the complainant had “any response to the backlash she had received – or the spat itself”. It said that at the time the representative was approached, it was assumed that she would have been aware that the complainant had been called a bully on Twitter, and what was suggested by the terms “twitter spat” and “backlash”. The magazine said that it is not uncommon for agents to be elusive when asking for comment on an issue, however it offered the complainant a further right of reply by way of an interview. This was not accepted by the complainant.

10. The magazine said that there was no prejudicial or pejorative reference to the complainant in the article, and as such there was no breach of Clause 12.

11. The magazine removed the online article from its website and offered to publish the following clarification online, featuring on the home page for at least twenty four hours, and in the magazine’s “Lowdown” section. It said that the “Lowdown” section features on different page numbers in each edition, but typically around page thirty of the magazine:

“In an article in our 1 May issue we published a story regarding Nicola McLean and [name removed], calling Nicola McLean a bully. Nicola has since contacted us to say that she did not bully [name removed]. We apologise to Nicola for not giving her the opportunity to comment at the time”.

Relevant Code provisions

12. 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 12 (Discrimination)

i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

Findings of the Committee

13. The magazine had received information from a source close to the model that she felt “bullied” by the complainant, and that she had “fled” the UK and was taking legal action as a result of the alleged tensions between them. Prior to the publication of the article, the magazine had contacted the complainant’s representative for her general comment on the “Twitter spat” between the two and its “backlash”. However, it did not put the specific allegation to her that the complainant was a bully, and failed to distinguish between this claim and the “Twitter spat”. In this instance, the Committee did not consider that sufficient steps were taken to corroborate these claims. It was not adequate to rely on a video posted on social media to support such allegations, which were of a serious nature. There was a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1 (i).  

14. The magazine published comments made on behalf of the complainant which appeared to be made in response to the serious allegations about her conduct, and gave the significantly misleading impression that she had accepted them; this required clarification and an apology under Clause 1 (ii). The magazine had offered to publish a clarification in the “Lowdown” section, which addressed the misleading impression in the article and included an apology. It said that the “Lowdown” section typically appears at around page thirty of the magazine. The article had appeared on page twenty four and the claim that the complainant was a “bully” was made within this text. The front page trail clearly attributed the claim to the model, therefore the Committee considered that the offer to publish the clarification in the “Lowdown” section was sufficient to avoid a breach of Clause 1 (ii).

15. The article did not make a prejudicial or pejorative reference to the complainant in regards to any of the characteristics protected under Clause 12; there was no breach of Clause 12.

Conclusions

16. The complaint under Clause 1 (i) was upheld.

Remedial action required

17. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required.

18. The magazine had promptly offered to publish a clarification, which corrected the misleading impression in the article, and included an apology. This should now be published. 

Date complaint received: 26/04/2017
Date decision issued: 01/09/2017