Ruling

07157-18 A man v Sunday World

    • Date complaint received

      7th March 2019

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 07157-18 A man v Sunday World

Summary of complaint

1. A man complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday World breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “VICTIM SETS UP FIRST NI SUPPORT GROUP”, published 21 October 2018.

2. The article formed part of a wider feature on stalking in Northern Ireland. The publication had spoken to a number of individuals about their own experiences of being victims of stalking and their criticism that the current law in Northern Ireland was failing to protect them. 

3. The article under complaint was a first person account by a named woman, who had spoken to the newspaper about her decision to set up an online support group for victims of stalking: “because of my own seven-year stalking experience I set up [the group] in 2015 to support other victims as I found there is nowhere else to go for help”. In the piece, the woman gave her advice to readers who may be experiencing unwanted contact; criticised current stalking laws and failures of the police; and provided information on the support group.

4. The woman’s account was prefaced in the article: “For seven years she’s been hounded by an ex-partner. Her life was threatened, she was trolled and followed, her child also became a target and it was through her own harrowing experience that she realised there was no support for people suffering just like her, there was nowhere to turn”.

5. The complainant, a former partner of the woman, said that the woman was making claims about him and his conduct. He denied that he had stalked or harassed the woman in any way. He said that neither his former partner, nor the publication, had any evidential basis to support the false allegations which had been made against him. The complainant said that he had not been given the opportunity to challenge the woman’s claims, prior to publication.

6. The complainant said that while he had not been named in the article under complaint, by identifying his former partner, the article had identified him as a consequence of his previous association with her. He said that the publication of inaccurate and damaging allegations about his conduct was an unjustified intrusion into his privacy.

7. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Code. The newspaper said that the woman had not mentioned the complainant’s name when she had spoken to the newspaper in general terms about the need for legislation and the impact on people of stalkers’ behaviour.  It said that as a result, the article did not name the complainant or contain any information which might lead to his identification. It said that the piece was not about the complainant’s alleged conduct, but about the need for greater protection for victims of stalking. The newspaper said that the woman had every right to raise this important societal issue and noted that she was someone of standing in this area, having worked with the Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Justice.

8. The newspaper said that it did not contact the complainant for comment as it did not believe it to be necessary in the context of the story. It said that the general reference to the woman’s experience with an unnamed former partner was merely setting out the conditions under which she was motivated to set up the victim support group and campaign for greater legal protection for victims of stalking.

9. In relation to Clause 2, the newspaper did not accept that the article contained any information about which the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy. The newspaper acknowledged that it was foreseeable that the complainant would have been identifiable to those who would know him as the woman’s former partner. However, it said that this was unavoidable as not identifying the woman would mean that she would be unfairly prohibited from talking to the press.

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. The complainant’s former partner had a right to tell her story. The article under complaint formed part of a wider narrative relating to the woman’s campaigning work for legislative change. It was in this context that the article had made general reference to the alleged conduct of an unnamed individual. The article had reported that an “ex-partner” of the woman had “stalked”, “trolled” and “followed” her for seven years. These allegations, made without the inclusion of further detail, had provided the context for the woman’s decision to set up the support group and for her motivation.

12. Critical to the Committee’s consideration of the complaint, was the extent to which these were allegations which would be understood by a reader as being made against the complainant. The woman had not named her former partner in the article, and there was no information about this individual, or his personal circumstances which might lead readers to identify him. For example, the article did not contain any details about the length of the relationship or when and where it had taken place. In the absence of this type of identifying information, the Committee did not consider that the complainant could be identified by readers of the article and, as a consequence, the allegations would not be understood to be made against the complainant from a reading of the article alone. In reporting the woman’s alleged experiences in this way, there was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article and no correction was required under the terms of Clause 1 (ii). There was no breach of Clause 1.

13. For the reasons explained above, the Committee did not establish that the article had disclosed any information about which the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy. The complaint under Clause 2 was not upheld.

Conclusion

14. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

15. N/A

Independent Complaints Reviewer

The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.

Date complaint received: 31/10/2018
Date complaint concluded: 13/02/2019