Ruling

08316-23 Webb v metro.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      9th June 2023

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of correction

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 08316-23 Webb v metro.co.uk


Summary of Complaint

1. Kelly Webb complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that metro.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Woman buys house next to cricket pitch and complains about cricket balls landing in her garden”, published on 9 January 2023.

2. The article – which appeared online only – reported on a cricket club which had been subject to a complaint from a local neighbour. It said that “when a nearby house was bought by a new owner in 2021, she soon started complaining about batsmen hitting sixes into her property“ and that the “historic cricket club has been threatened with closure after complaints from a new neighbour about balls landing in her garden”. The article described how the cricket club had had to make changes to how it operated as a result of these complaints and had now “suspend[ed] adult cricket”.

3. The article also included a quote from someone who played at the grounds: “Two years ago a neighbour moved in and started complaining about the balls hitting her fence and going into her property. ‘I’ve been playing here for 14 years and have never known a serious issue with balls. She has put pressure on the committee to make changes. We’ve tried several things – initially we started playing away from her part of the field.”

4. The article was accompanied by a bird’s eye image of the cricket club grounds and the surrounding houses. It had circled one of the houses – the IPSO complainant’s home – in red, and the image was captioned: “A historic cricket club has been threatened with closure after complaints from a new neighbour about balls in their yard”. The article then repeated the image with a different caption: “But when a large detached house bordering the pitch was purchased by a new owner in 2021, she began to complain about batsmen hitting sixes into her garden”.

5. The IPSO complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1, as the images it included showed her house within a red circle. By singling out her home in this manner, she considered that the article suggested that she was the person who had made the 2021 complaint after buying her home the same year. The IPSO complainant said that she had in fact purchased her property in 2014 and that she was not the "new neighbour” who had been petitioning for the club to stop playing sixes. She said that, as a result of this article, other newspapers and radio programmes had identified her and she had been threatened with violence online and been the subject of a hate campaign on social media. The IPSO complainant said the article and its impact had been very distressing for her and her family and had damaged her reputation.

6. The IPSO complainant acknowledged that she had spoken to the cricket club in 2022 previously about the issue of cricket balls entering her garden and had offered to help pay for a fence to prevent balls from entering her garden. However, she said that the exchanges were cordial, and they had never communicated specifically about sixes.

7. The IPSO complainant further said that the article had breached Clause 2, as it had revealed her address – which she considered to be an intrusion into her privacy. She said that she was a prominent member of the community and therefore many people had connected her house with the complaint described. The IPSO complainant said that a written apology and compensation would be an appropriate remedy to the alleged breach of the Code.

8. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the article had been written in good faith based on a report from a reputable news agency, who had also provided the images. However, upon being contacted directly by the IPSO complainant on 10 January, the publication offered to remove the circle which identified the IPSO complainant’s house as a gesture of goodwill.

9. The publication said that the image of the house – which had been supplied by the news agency – had been identified by one of the club members as the homes of one of the people who had complained about errant cricket balls landing in their garden. The publication said it was unable to independently verify the image of the house, as this information had been provided by the agency and therefore there was no “corroborating evidence”. While the newspaper accepted that the article, in circling the IPSO complainant’s home, had inaccurately described the IPSO complainant as having moved into her home more recently than she did, it said the inaccuracy was not significant, as she had previously complained to the club. However, in order to resolve the complaint, the publication offered to publish the following footnote correction on 3 February:

“A previous version of this article included an image with a house circled. The text suggested that the owner of his house had complained to the club after moving into the property in 2021. We are happy to clarify the complainant living in that house moved into the area in 2014.”

10. In response to the concerns raised under Clause 2, the publication said the article did not refer to the IPSO complainant by name, or include any details beyond the image provided by the news agency. It did not accept that the article intruded into her expectation of privacy. It said it had removed and replaced the image on receipt of the original complaint, as a gesture of goodwill. It did not believe that a written apology or compensation was appropriate.

11. The IPSO complainant did not accept the correction offered by the publication, and said that, despite the updated article, the picture of her circled house still existed on social media. She said correcting when she had moved into her house did not rectify anything as the entire story was about the 2021 complaint – which she had not made – and how it had disrupted the future of the club.

Relevant Clause Provisions

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 their private and family life, home, physical and mental 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.

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

12. The Committee acknowledged that the IPSO complainant had had some past interactions with the cricket club about balls being hit into her garden. However, the article was reporting  on a recent complaint by a person who had bought their house in 2021; this was the complaint which had resulted in the suspension of adult cricket at the club. By accompanying a report of the 2021 complaint with an image which showed the IPSO complainant’s house within a red circle, the article had linked the 2021  club complaint to the IPSO complainant, when it was accepted by all parties that the IPSO complainant had not lodged the 2021 cricket club complaint. The publication had also not taken any additional steps to verify who owned the circled house in the image, and had relied on the word of single cricket club member. As such, the newspaper had failed to take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information. There was a breach of Clause 1 (i).

13. The Committee considered this inaccuracy to be significant where the grievance described in the article – which had resulted in unpopular changes to the cricket club’s rules – was linked to the wrong person. As such, these unpopular changes had been inaccurately attributed to the IPSO complainant which was significant and required correction under Clause 1 (ii).

14. The Committee turned next to the question of whether the action taken by the publication was sufficiently prominent, prompt, and set out the correct position and the original inaccuracy – as required by the terms of Clause 1 (ii). The publication had, in its first communication with the IPSO complainant, offered to publish a clarification making clear the IPSO complainant and owner of the house circled in the image had moved into her house in 2014. The Committee considered that the newspaper had offered to publish a clarification promptly – once it became aware of the IPSO complainant’s concerns – and had proposed to publish it in a sufficiently prominent position as a footnote to the online article, given the newspaper had removed the image of the circled house.

15. However, the wording of the clarification only set out that the IPSO complainant had moved into her house in 2014. The Committee did not consider this addressed the fact that the article had linked the IPSO complainant to a complaint she had not made. The clarification did not make clear the correct position, which was that the IPSO complainant had not made the 2021 complaint. There was, therefore, a breach of Clause 1 (ii).

16. The Committee considered the IPSO complainant’s request for a written apology. In this instance, on balance the Committee concluded that a written apology was not justified where the complainant was not named in the article, and where the publication had removed the circled image when it had first been made aware of the IPSO complainant’s concerns.

17. Turning to the IPSO complainant’s concerns raised under Clause 2, the Committee recognised that circling the IPSO complainant’s house in connection with a complaint she had not made was distressing to the IPSO complainant. However the Committee must take other factors into account when considering a breach of Clause 2 beyond any possible distress the article may have caused. It noted that the image of the IPSO complainant’s house was taken from above and from a distance and did not depict any interior spaces or private areas. It further noted that depicting the exterior of an individual’s house generally does not intrude into an individual’s expectation of privacy and in this case, did not reveal anything private about the IPSO complainant. The Committee also noted that the IPSO complainant was not named within the article in connection to the house, and people who were able to identify the IPSO complainant from her house would have already known her address – it did not disclose information about the IPSO complainant to those who would not already have been aware of this information. There was no breach of Clause 2.

Conclusions

18. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1.

Remedial action required

19. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or an adjudication; the nature, extent and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

20. The Committee had found that that linking the IPSO complainant to a complaint made in 2021 was inaccurate. The Committee noted that the publication had offered a clarification promptly and prominently, however this had not put the correct position on record. Therefore,  the Committee considered that a correction setting out the full correct position was the appropriate remedy to the breach. The correction should make clear that the person whose house was previously identified in the image did not make the complaint the article had described.

21. The Committee then considered the placement of this correction. The publication has since removed the circled image of the IPSO complainant’s home, meaning that the article no longer included the image which inaccurately linked the IPSO complainant to the 2021 complaint. As, such the Committee considered that it was proportionate to require that the correction be published as a footnote.

22. The wording should be agreed with IPSO in advance and should make clear that it has been published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

 

Date complaint received:  12/01/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  23/05/2023