Ruling

08762-21 Nita v edinburghnews .scotsman.com

    • Date complaint received

      7th April 2022

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 14 Confidential sources, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 08762-21 Nita v edinburghnews.scotsman.com

Summary of Complaint

1. Bogdan Nita complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that edinburghnews.scotsman.com breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), and Clause 14 (Confidential sources) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Edinburgh University student under fire over 'Islamophobic' statements”, published on 29th July 2021.

2. The article reported that an Edinburgh University student, the complainant, was being investigated by the university, after having been accused of racially abusing a woman online. It reported that the exchange had occurred on Facebook, and that following this, the accuser had been “blocked from the [complainant’s] account, which changed its display name from Theodor Nita to Theodor Nitsch and removed Mr Nita’s profile picture. His official name is Bodgan Nita.” The article included a number of pictures of the complainant, including screenshots from social media, with one picture captioned “The Facebook account in Mr Nita's name has changed three times since the incident, going by: Theodor Nita, Theodor Nitsch and Bogdan Nita”, and another captioned “Mr Nita, who has been studying at Edinburgh University since 2018, has recently been removed from the university's website.” The article stated that the case was “ongoing”, and that the university had “confirmed that it was investigating the complaint but did not provide any further information about the situation”.

3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 to state that “Mr Nita, who has been studying at Edinburgh University since 2018, has recently been removed from the university's website”, as he had never had an account or profile on the university website. To support his position, the complainant provided correspondence from the university, who confirmed that “no professional web page was set up in [his] name during [his] PhD studies in the School of Literature, Languages and Cultures during the period from September 2018 and September 2021”. He added that he considered the above quote in the article implied that the university had deleted the account because he was guilty of making the comment. The complainant also said that it was inaccurate for the article to claim that “[t]he Facebook account in Mr Nita's name has changed three times since the incident, going by: Theodor Nita, Theodor Nitsch and Bogdan Nita” as he had never held a Facebook account under his real name, Bogdan Nita.

4. The complainant said that the article had also breached Clause 2. Firstly, he said that the inclusion of photographs of him and screenshots of his social media accounts intruded into his privacy. He added that his Facebook account was private at the time of publishing. Secondly, the complainant said the inclusion of a screenshot from his profile on a professional networking website for academics was in breach of Clause 2 as it made his account public. He added that the website requires the consent from the author in order to use anything publicly available, for example articles or pictures, and he had not given his consent. In addition, the complainant said that this particular profile was deleted prior to the article being published.

5. The complainant also said that the article had breached Clause 14 as the university’s investigation was ongoing and confidential at the time of publication, and as the article published photographs of him and screenshots of his social media accounts.

6. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. With regards to the accuracy of the article, it said that, although it did not possess a screenshot of the relevant webpage, the complainant’s details had been listed on the University of Edinburgh’s Department for Literatures, Languages and Culture website when it had begun researching the story but were subsequently removed. It added that it did not report that a “professional web page” had been created in the complainant’s name, and that it did not contend that one was. The publication further said that it did not consider the removal of this information or the reporting of such implied guilt on the part of the complainant; it said that the article made clear that the investigation was ongoing and that a conclusion was yet to be reached.

7. The publication accepted that it was inaccurate to claim that “[t]he Facebook account in Mr Nita's name has changed three times since the incident, going by: Theodor Nita, Theodor Nitsch and Bogdan Nita”, as although three different names were used at various times for online profiles of the complainant, only two were used for Facebook accounts, rather than three. Whilst the publication accepted that the disputed sentence was inaccurate, it did not accept that this constituted a significant inaccuracy. It did, however, offer to correct the inaccuracy and make the correct position clear.

8. In regard to Clause 2, the publication said that the images which were used to illustrate the story were already in the public domain, having been published by the complainant on his Facebook and professional networking accounts. It said that these were not supplied by a third party and the reporter was able to access these as an ordinary member of the public; it provided screenshots of the accounts in question. The publication said that as the images were publicly available, the use of them did not represent an invasion of privacy.

9. The publication said that Clause 14 was designed to recognise that journalists have an obligation to protect confidential sources who approach them with information under the condition of anonymity. Given this, it did not accept that the terms of Clause 14 were engaged by the complainant’s concerns.

10. The complainant disputed that the images were not supplied by a third party, as he believed the images had been supplied to the publication by his accuser. The complainant accepted that his details were listed on the University of Edinburgh’s Department for Literatures, Languages and Culture website, but disputed that these had been removed.

Relevant Code 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.

Clause 14 (Confidential sources)

Journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information.

Findings of the Committee

11. The article under complaint was substantially focussed on the details of the dispute between the complainant and the woman who had made the allegation of racial abuse. An accompanying photograph caption had stated that the complainant had “recently been removed from the [Edinburgh] university’s website”, which the complainant said was inaccurate and suggested that the allegation made against him was true. The complainant said that his details had only ever appeared on one page of the university’s website, on the profile of his supervisor, and during IPSO’s investigation the publication accepted that this was the page to which the article referred. The Committee noted that the complainant’s details still appeared on his supervisor’s profile and that the article was inaccurate in reporting that they had been removed from the university’s website.  However, the Committee did not consider that the inaccuracy was significant in circumstances where the article made explicitly clear that the University’s investigation into the matter was “ongoing”, and accordingly that a finding had yet to be made in respect of the allegation. For this reason, a correction was not required and there was no breach of Clause 1.

12. The publication accepted that it had inaccurately claimed that Mr Nita’s Facebook account had been held under three different names at various times. The question for the Committee was whether the article had been significantly inaccurate on this point. It was not in dispute that the complainant had used three names for various online profiles, but that only two of these had been used on Facebook. The Committee did not consider that the difference between two and three different names on Facebook was significant, in circumstances where the focus of the article was on the allegations made against Mr Nita and the ongoing investigation, and where it was accepted that he had used three names in total across his social media profiles. There was no breach of Clause 1. Whilst there was no obligation under the Code to correct the point given that the Committee had not found that it was significant, the Committee nevertheless welcomed the publication’s offer to amend this detail.

13. The publication had provided screenshots of the social media accounts and professional networking profile in question. While the profiles may have been removed some time prior to publication, and may have had certain privacy settings in place, the evidence provided by the publication demonstrated that the images used within the article had been publicly viewable. In addition, the images themselves only showed the likeness of the complainant, and the public facing profiles of the various accounts he held. On this basis, the complainant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect to the images and publishing them did not constitute an intrusion into his private life. There was no breach of Clause 2.

14. Clause 14 states that journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information. The complainant’s concern did not relate to this and so it did not engage the terms of the Clause.

Conclusion(s)

15. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

16. N/A


Date complaint received: 30/07/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 23/03/2022