Ruling

08379-16 A man v The Belfast Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      5th January 2017

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee 08379-16 A man v The Belfast Telegraph

Summary of Complaint     

1. A man complained on behalf of his son to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Belfast Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “School rocked by teen’s Nazi tribute”, published on 10 September 2016. The article was also published online with the headline “Top grammar school comes under fire after pupil's quotes that praise Hitler are included in yearbook”.

2. The article reported on the complainant’s son’s entry in his school yearbook, which it explained was made up of short biographies of graduating students. The article claimed that the yearbook “included vile Nazi comments attributed to a pupil”. The article named the school, but did not name the complainant’s son. It reported that in his yearbook entry, the complainant’s son had described himself as “British, Loyalist and Fascist”; had quoted: “It is not the truth that matters, but victory”, from Adolf Hitler’s autobiography ‘Mein Kampf’;, and had referred to the 1923 Munich Putsch.

3. The article was accompanied by an image of the yearbook entry, in which the complainant’s son’s face and name were pixelated. In the image of the yearbook entry, the words “Munich Putsch (1923)” appeared under “My confession…”, and the quote from Mein Kampf was referred to as “Best quote”, and was attributed to Adolf Hitler. The image also showed that the complainant’s son had responded to the statement “In 10 years time I’ll be …”, with the claim “Crushing Socialism”, and responded to the question “what will you miss most?”, with “Banter in Politics”. The image showed that the complainant has responded to the statement “3 words that best describe me are…”, with the words “British, Loyalist, Fascist”. The article appeared on the front page, but the full article was published on page 5 with the headline: “Top grammar comes under fire after pupil’s quotes that praise Hitler are included in yearbook”.

4. The article reported that the school had issued a statement saying that the yearbook was a student publication, that the contribution in question was made by an 18-year-old former pupil, and that his comments did not reflect the views of the school. It reported that a local politician had objected to the comments, and that he had demanded the yearbook be recalled, and edited. It reported that the comments had “sparked alarm among parents”, and that one parent had “accused the school of ‘nurturing’ hatred”.

5. The online version of the article was identical to the print version.

6. The complainant said the yearbook had been written for the students in his son’s year group at school, and had not been intended for wider distribution. As a result, the yearbook entries were written in a light-hearted manner, containing “in-jokes”, only apparent to fellow students and some of the teachers. He noted that in the same yearbook, another student had described himself as a “Nationalist, Communist”, quoted Karl Marx, and referred to the Bolshevik Revolution, and said that the ‘banter’ in his son’s politics class was the context for his son’s yearbook entry. He said that by taking the yearbook entry out of its context and ignoring its humorous nature, the newspaper had inaccurately portrayed his son as a neo-Nazi. In addition, he said it was normal for his son to quote historical figures in in his academic work, and that quoting figures such as Hitler does not mean he subscribes to their ideology. He said it was inaccurate to claim his son had praised Hitler, or that his son’s yearbook entry contained “vile Nazi comments attributed to a pupil”, and said that the allegation that the school was “nurturing hatred” lacked justification.

7. The complainant said that as far as he was aware, the yearbook was not published online, and was sold to the 110 students in his son’s year group. He said that anybody who knew his son could identify him from the pixelated photograph, including all the students at his school. He said that the newspaper failed to contact his son prior to publication, and that by publishing his yearbook entry, the newspaper had breached his privacy. The complainant said that as a result of the article, his son had received unpleasant comments, that many people had made posts on social media, and that his son had been contacted by another newspaper.

8. The newspaper said that the yearbook was distributed to at least 100 students and would have been read by countless other individuals once it entered the public domain. It said that the complainant’s son was the guardian of what information about him he wished to remain private, and in this case, he had waived any right of privacy in respect of the remarks he made in his yearbook entry.

9. The newspaper said that the yearbook was endorsed by a leading school, and would be read by pupils and others from diverse sections of society. It said the yearbook was not a proper vehicle for the complainant’s son to air his comments. In this respect, it said there was a public interest in informing the public about the matter, in a newspaper that has always devoted considerable coverage to education issues.

10. The newspaper denied that the article was inaccurate. It said there had never been any dispute about the contents of the complainant’s son’s yearbook entry, and said that he was not approached for comment as the yearbook entry was in the public domain.

Relevant Code Provisions

11. 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.

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 source

Findings of the Committee

12. In deciding whether the complainant’s son had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the information published by the newspaper, the Committee considered both the nature of the information contained in the article, and the extent of the complainant’s son’s own public disclosure of this information. The complainant’s son’s responses to the various headings did not disclose information about his private life; on the complainant’s own account, they were jokes about political history. In addition, there were more than 100 students in the complainant’s son’s year group who were all able to purchase the book, and who would be free to show the book to others. The article did not name the complainant’s son, and his image had been pixelated.  In all the circumstances, the complainant’s son did not have reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the information contained in the article, and there was no breach of Clause 2.

13. The complainant’s son had responded to the heading “Best quote”, with a quotation by and attributed to Adolf Hitler; had claimed that “in 10 years time”, he would be “Crushing Socialism”; had referred to himself as “Fascist”; and had said that his “confession” was the Munich Putsch. The article included a prominent image of the yearbook entry in question. The Committee acknowledged the complainant’s position that these were ‘in-jokes’. However, the complainant’s son had written these comments for publication in a yearbook, which could be expected to be read without the benefit of that context. The newspaper was entitled to interpret the complainant’s son’s yearbook entry from an external point of view, and it was clear from the article that it was doing so. The newspaper was entitled to characterise the yearbook entry as “praising” Hitler, and it was not significantly misleading to report that the yearbook entry included “vile Nazi comments”. The basis for the parent’s claim that the school was “nurturing hatred” was made clear, and this aspect of the article was not significantly misleading. The Committee did not establish that the article contained a significant inaccuracy, or a significantly misleading statement. There was no breach of Clause 1.

14. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that his son had received unpleasant comments as a result of the article, and that he had been contacted by the newspaper’s sister publication. However, the newspaper was not responsible under the Code for the comments made to the complainant’s son by third parties, or the approach that was made to him by another newspaper. There was no breach of Clause 3.

Conclusions

15. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

16. N/A

Date complaint received: 11/09/2016
Date decision issued: 19/12/2016