Ruling

08365 -16 White v Loughborough Echo

    • Date complaint received

      1st December 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee 08365 -16 White v Loughborough Echo

Summary of complaint

1. Andrew White complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Loughborough Echo breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Dance teacher invented story of girl dying of cancer”, published on 14 September 2016.

2. The article reported that the complainant had pleaded guilty to fraud by misrepresentation. It said that he had invented a story about a nine-year-old girl with terminal cancer, and had appealed to local people and businesses to donate money in order to pay for her to go on a dream holiday. The article said that police had found a Facebook page where the child’s “mother” provided updates on her daughter’s medical treatment, and in March 2016 it was announced that the child had died. The article said that the newspaper had become suspicious about the complainant’s fundraising when it found that a picture, which he claimed to be of the child and her family, had been taken by a photography company around six years previously. The piece stated that the newspaper had approached the complainant for comment, but “he declined to speak”.

3. The article was published online with the headline “Dance teacher invents nine-year-old dying of cancer”. The online version also included the invented child’s “bucket list”.

4. The complainant said that a journalist representing the newspaper had approached him outside his workplace, had told him that he intended to write an article about his conviction, and had asked him if he cared to respond. The complainant said that the reporter had spoken in a loud and aggressive voice, which was so quick and intimidating that he had not thought to ask him to go away. He said that as he got into his car, the reporter had shouted aggressively “what happened to all the money you stole from everybody”. The complainant said that the court had found that he had not taken any money fraudulently. After a few moments, the complainant got out of his car and returned to his workplace; the venue’s manager then spoke to the reporter while the complainant departed. The whole exchange lasted approximately one minute. 

5. The complainant expressed concern that the reporter had not made clear that he was with a photographer, and said that his photograph had been taken without his knowledge and consent.

6. The complainant said that he would have spoken to the reporter had his behaviour not been so intimidating. He did not consider that he had been given the chance to respond, therefore he had not “declined to speak”, as reported.

7. The newspaper said that its reporter had approached the complainant and had introduced himself before attempting to provide him with an opportunity to comment. The reporter and the photographer who had accompanied him did not consider that he had raised his voice or spoken aggressively. The reporter said he had asked a couple of questions but the complainant had remained silent before getting into his car. Although the complainant had not asked the reporter to stop talking to him, the reporter had taken his silence and actions to mean that he declined to comment; he and the photographer had therefore moved away and made no further attempts to question the complainant. The newspaper said it was sorry if the complainant had found the situation upsetting, but it did not consider that the actions of its reporter or photographer had been unprofessional or in breach of the Code.

Relevant Code provisions

8. 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.

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.

Clause 3 (Harassment)

i. Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.

ii. They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.

iii. Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.

Findings of the Committee

9. It was not in dispute that the reporter had asked the complainant two questions about his conviction, and the complainant had not told him to desist. When the reporter understood that the complainant was not willing to comment, he had not sought to persist with further questioning. The reporter had not engaged in harassment in breach of Clause 3.

10. The photographer had taken the complainant’s photograph in a public place outside his workplace, and the published photograph had shown his face. The photographer had not engaged in harassment in breach of Clause 3, and the newspaper had not disclosed private information about the complainant in breach of Clause 2.

11. The complainant had made no comment when approached by the reporter. It was therefore not significantly misleading for the newspaper to state that he had “declined to speak”. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article on this point. The complaint under Clause 1 was not upheld. 

Conclusion

12. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

13. N/A 

Date complaint received: 10/09/2016
Date decision issued: 16/11/2016