Ruling

09339-22 A woman v cornwallive.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      20th July 2023

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 6 Children, 9 Reporting of crime

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 09339-22 A woman v cornwallive.co.uk


Summary of Complaint

1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that cornwalllive.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 6 (Children), and Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Truro homeless attack suspects have bail extended”, published on 9 May 2022. The complainant also complained about two comments posted by members of the public in response to the publication sharing links to articles on social media; the comments were made in February 2022 and May 2022.

2. The article under complaint reported that “[s]ix teenagers arrested after an assault on a homeless man in Truro have had their bail extended to the end of the month. The six were due to answer bail today, but police have pushed back the bail date as they await a decision from the Crown Prosecution Service over whether or not the suspects will be charged.” The article appeared online only.

3. In response to links to articles being shared by the publication on its Facebook page – one of which was the article under complaint, another of which was an earlier article about the incident and which was not subject to complaint – a member of the public posted, as a comment (hereafter “the February comment”) a screenshot which claimed to name five of the six teenagers allegedly involved in the incident and which also showed still images of a video, in which teenagers were partly visible – though their faces were not.

4. The complainant said that another comment was posted in May which also identified her son by name (hereafter “the May comment”). IPSO was not able to obtain a verbatim copy of this comment, but the fact of its existence was accepted by the publication.

5. The complainant was the mother of one of the teenagers who had been arrested in relation to the alleged offence. She said that, by allowing the two comments naming her child to be posted and remain on its social media, the publication had breached Clause 6 (Children), Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime) and Clause 2 (Privacy). She said that her son had not been named by the police, and that allowing the sharing of his name put her child in danger and had had a “massive impact on him”; her son was 14 years old and still in full-time education – though he did not attend school due to safety concerns. She said that her son had been arrested on 13 February 2022 but had not – at the time of IPSO’s investigation – yet been charged, and had therefore not been named officially prior to the publication’s February Facebook post; though she said that other members of the public had shared the information on social media. According to the complainant, the February comment had been posted a day or two after her son’s arrest – on the 14th or 15th of February.

6. The complainant also said that the article itself breached Clause 1, Clause 2, Clause 6, and Clause 9 by disclosing that her child had had his bail extended. She said that the information was published before she had been made aware of the fact, and that it was not acceptable that she had discovered this fact via social media.  

7. The complainant said that she had phoned the publication in March 2022, prior to making a complaint to IPSO, to make it aware of her concerns regarding the February comment. She said that the conversation was brief, but that she had spoken to a named journalist and requested that the February comment naming her son be removed. She said that, in her phone call, she had told the publication that she was the parent of one of the named children, and had told the publication that the comment had been made on a Facebook post on either the 14th or 15th of February. She said that the journalist had told her that the publication had posted a comment asking for the teenagers not to be named, and that he would go through the comments and remove any which named them. However, she said that she had also asked him to remove all of the comments made by members of the public, and he had refused to do so.

8. The complainant also said that she had contacted the publication directly via social media prior to contacting IPSO – and provided a screenshot showing messages she had sent to a reporter working for the publication and their responses. In the messages, the complainant did not refer to the February or May comments, but did express concerns over the article under complaint and the fact that it revealed that her child’s bail had been extended. She also emailed the publication with these concerns; her emails also did not refer to the February or May comments. 

9. The two comments under complaint remained online until the complaint was referred by IPSO to the publication for its attention on 1 June 2022 – on which day the publication removed the May comment. In its email informing the complainant that it had removed the comment, the publication said that it was writing “regarding [the complainant’s] complaint to IPSO for the following article, specifically in regards to comments that were posted on the social post by members of the public”. It then linked to the article under complaint which had been published in May – and which had prompted one of the comments under complaint (the May comment).

10. While the publication removed the May comment it did not accept that either the article or comments breached the Code and – with regards to the comments – did not accept that these were within IPSO’s remit. It said that comments posted on its Facebook page were not pre-moderated, and that it had had no record of having received a phone call from the complainant regarding the February comment in March 2022. It said that it kept no record of complaints received via phone, as complaints are generally accepted only in writing or via its online complaints form; it provided its Complaints Policy which set this out. It also said that the journalist whom the complainant said she had contacted had confirmed that the publication had been contacted several times regarding comments naming the children, and that all such comments were deleted on an individual basis as and when they were brought to the publication’s attention. It did not, therefore, accept that the February comment had been brought to its attention on the phone in the manner described by the complainant - otherwise, it would have been deleted along with the other comments which named the children.

11. The publication also said that it had only understood IPSO’s initial correspondence to relate to the article and the May comment and had not understood that the complaint also related to a comment posted in February, as IPSO had only identified the May article in its letter accompanying the complaint. It said that it had only been made clear in a subsequent email from IPSO, received on 17 June, that there was an additional Facebook comment under complaint. This was why it had only removed the May comment upon being initially contacted by IPSO on 1 June. However, it said it would be happy to remove the February comment, and offered to do so on 24 June 2022; it subsequently removed the comment on 6 July 2022.

12. Where the publication said it had deleted the May comment as soon as it had become aware of it, and had offered to delete the February comment once it had been made aware of its existence, it considered that the comments were not within IPSO’s remit. It noted that IPSO can only consider comments which have been reviewed by the publication, and did not accept that it had had the opportunity to review the comments prior to IPSO making it aware of the complaint.

13. While the publication did not accept that the comments were within IPSO’s remit, it nevertheless said that it did not consider that Clause 6 had been breached by the comments.  The publication noted that it had not named the complainant’s son; rather, it was members of the public who had done so. It also said that the comments could not be said to have had an intrusive effect on his time at school, as they were removed once they were brought to its attention. It did not consider, therefore, that the terms of Clause 6 were engaged.

14. With regards to Clause 9, the publication accepted that the complainant’s son had been arrested and had not yet appeared in court. It did not, however, accept that unmoderated comments posted by members of the public could engage the terms of the Clause, where Clause 9 (iii) makes specific reference to “Editors” and the editor of the publication did not have any control over the comments being posted. It followed that the publication could not be said to have named the complainant’s son, or to have allowed him to be named.

15. The publication also noted that the complainant’s son appeared to have been identified on social media prior to the comments under complaint being posted; to support its position on this point, it provided a comment from a member of the public – posted in February 2022 – in response to a comment from the publication asking members of public not to identify the teenagers – saying “think it’s a bit late for that now. Their names were posted many hours before it was reported on here”. It said that this comment indicated that the names of the children were in the public domain prior to the publication of both of the comments under complaint. It also provided a further comment from a member of the public, saying “they’ve all been named. They have been causing issue in [town] for years. […] At least this time there’s video evidence and they can be identified and charged”. This comment was not dated. The publication therefore considered that the name of the complainant’s son was in the public domain in relation to the offence, and further noted that it had posted a comment under the February Facebook post – some days after its initial publication, and prior to the complaint being made – saying “Please DO NOT post the names of any suspects here. They cannot be identified for legal reasons and you may risk damaging any prospect of potential prosecution.”

16. Turning to the article, and concerns that the publication had released information about the complainant’s son in a manner that breached the Code, it noted that that the information about the bail extension had been provided to it by the relevant police force’s Media Service Office, and provided a copy of the email showing this. The email was sent on 9 May, and said that “we now await a decision from the CPS on this case, so the bail date has been extended until 30 May”.

17. While the publication did not consider that that the Code had been breached and it was not therefore necessary to put forward an argument under the Public Interest provision of the Code, it said that the reporting of the incident in the article was in the public interest where it concerned a matter of public safety. It said there was also a public interest in sharing the material on Facebook and to allow comments, to make more members of the local community aware of the incident, and to enable members of the public to share their views on a matter pertaining to their local community and public safety in general.

18. Finally, the publication said that it did not consider the terms of Clause 2 to be engaged by the complainant’s concerns.

19. The complainant said that whether or not her son had been named by members of the public prior to the comments under complaint was not relevant; the publication had, in her view, a duty to ensure that the name of her child was not shared on its platform and it had failed to carry out this duty.

20. After IPSO’s Complaints Committee had already considered the complaint, the publication – as part of a request for an Independent Review – provided 5 social media posts, dated the 13th and 14th of February 2022 – which named the complainant’s son. The social media posts read as follows:

The first post

“Don’t forget these [sic] names

[Five names, including the name of the complainant’s son]

You people are vile”

The second post

“Names:

[Seven names, including the complainant’s son]

Breaks my heart I was friends with 2 of them”

The third post quoted the second post, with the following addition:

“A list of grade A scumbags right there”

The fourth post

“[Five names, including the complainant’s son] bet your families are proud of you shame on u for what you did to that poor man”

The fifth post, which included an article headlined “Homeless man viciously beaten by youths in Truro car park”

“[Five names, including the complainant’s son]

Hope the rumours aren’t true. Apparently he’s died. 😠😠😠

Absolutely disgusting. Some teenagers are vile these days. So glad my 2 boys are nothing like this.”

21. The publication said that these posts clearly demonstrated that the child’s name had been in the public domain at the time the comment under complaint was made, it did not accept that there was breach of Clause 9 (iii) – it had demonstrated that the child’s name was in the public domain. It said that it had not previously provided these social media posts because the complainant had already provided posts which showed that her child had been named on social media, and it did not want to cause her undue upset. It noted that it had not specifically been asked to provide these social media post during IPSO’s investigation.

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.

Clause 6 (Children)*

i) All pupils should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.

Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime)*

iii) Editors should generally avoid naming children under the age of 18 after arrest for a criminal offence but before they appear in a youth court unless they can show that the individual’s name is already in the public domain, or that the individual (or, if they are under 16, a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult) has given their consent. This does not restrict the right to name juveniles who appear in a crown court, or whose anonymity is lifted.

Relevant IPSO Regulations

The Remit of the Regulator

1. The Regulator shall regulate the following material published by Regulated Entities within the UK, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, subject to the exceptions in Regulation 4 below:

1.2 editorial content on electronic services operated by Regulated Entities such as websites and apps, including text, pictures, video, audio/visual and interactive content.

4. Complaints handling by the Regulator shall be restricted to complaints about breaches of the Editors' Code which, for the avoidance of doubt, shall not include:

4.6 complaints about 'user generated content' posted onto Regulated Entities' websites which has not been reviewed or moderated by the Regulated Entity

Findings of the Committee

22. The first question for the Committee was whether the two Facebook comments – the February and May comments – fell within IPSO’s remit. IPSO’s regulations make clear that content on websites operated by regulated publications falls within IPSO’s remit if it has been subject to some form of editorial control. In the case of user-generated content (such as comments), this generally means that there has been some form of review or moderation on the part of the publication, which includes a decision to allow material to remain online after it is the subject of a complaint under the Editors’ Code.

23. There was some dispute regarding at what point the February and May comments had been brought to the publication’s attention. The complainant had said that the February comment had been reported by way of a phone call in March, while the publication did not accept that such a phone call had taken place. The Committee noted that it was not in a position to resolve this discrepancy but that – in any case – the complainant had said that she had not named her child in the phone call, nor specified the exact comment which had caused her concern. Therefore, on balance, the Committee considered that there was not enough information to demonstrate that the publication had been made aware of the February or May Facebook comments prior to the instigation of the IPSO complaints process.

24. It was not in dispute that the May comment had been brought to the publication’s attention on 1 June 2022, when IPSO contacted the publication to make it aware that a complaint had been received about the May article and the attached comments. The publication had removed the comment on the same day, as soon as it had the opportunity to review and moderate it. Where the publication had removed the May comment on the same day that it was made aware of its existence, the Committee was satisfied that the May comment was not within IPSO’s remit, and it therefore made no further determination on whether the Code was breached by the May comment.

25. While the May comment had been removed promptly on 1 June 2022, the February comment remained online. The publication had argued that it had understood IPSO’s initial correspondence to relate only to the May comment. However, the Committee noted that the initial correspondence had, in fact, included a copy of the February comment; it did therefore not accept that the comment had not been brought to its attention on 1 June 2022. In any case, the publication accepted that the February comment was brought to its attention in IPSO’s subsequent email of 17 June, and yet it remained online until 6 July 2022. The Committee therefore considered that the publication had been given ample opportunity to review and moderate the comment, where it had been brought to its attention at least 19 days before its removal. Therefore, the Committee found that the February comment fell within IPSO’s remit.

26. Where the February comment fell within IPSO’s remit, the next question for the Committee was whether it breached the Editors’ Code. The Editors’ Code of Practice, in providing additional protections for children, acknowledges their particularly vulnerable position. This is reflected in the terms of Clause 9 (iii), which offers further protections to children under the age of 18 who are arrested than is afforded to their adult counterparts.

27. The publication had said that the terms of Clause 9 (iii) were not engaged by the comment as the Clause makes specific reference to ‘Editors’, and the child was identified by a member of the public in a Facebook comment. However, the Committee considered that such a narrow interpretation of the sub-Clause would serve to limit the key protections that the sub-Clause clearly sought to provide: anonymity for children accused of criminal acts in spaces where the publication exercises editorial control, which is clearly in line with the spirit of the Code – which seeks to protect the rights of children. It further noted that the phrase ‘Editors’ is used numerous times elsewhere in the Code to denote the individual within the publication with ultimate responsibility, rather than to limit complaints only to content which has been prepared by the publication itself. 

28. The Committee was therefore satisfied that the terms of Clause 9 (iii) were engaged by the publication of the February comment naming the complainant’s son; however, in deciding whether there was a breach of this sub-Clause the Committee was first obligated to consider whether the publication had demonstrated that the child’s name was already in the public domain at the time the February comment became “editorial content” and fell within their remit.

29. The question for the Committee was, therefore, whether the child’s name was in the public domain at the time the February comment became “editorial content” on 17 June 2022. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that the child had yet to be named in an official capacity, for example by the police in relation to the incident, and that some of the social media posts referenced the child’s involvement in the incident as a “rumour”.  However, the publication had, albeit belatedly, provided a number of posts on social media from February 2022 which explicitly named the child as being involved in the incident.  The Committee, therefore, considered that the publication had been able to demonstrate that the child’s name was already in the public domain by the time the February comment became “editorial content” on 17 June 2022.  In such circumstances, there was no breach of Clause 9 (iii).

30. Notwithstanding this finding, the Committee expressed concern at the late disclosure of information – where the publication did not provide the posts until after the Committee’s first consideration of the complaint – and wished to stress that it would advise such information be submitted during IPSO investigations. It also wished to make clear that, should either party have concerns over the sharing of information during an IPSO investigation, this should be raised during the investigation, rather than after, so as to avoid unnecessary delays to the complaint process.

31. The Committee next considered whether the February Facebook comment breached the terms of Clause 6 (i), where the child’s mother had said that his identification had led to disruption to his schooling. The publication had said that the comment could not have had an intrusive effect on his school life, as it had been removed as soon as it had been brought to its attention. However, the Committee did not accept this argument, noting that there had been a delay of at least 19 days between the comment being brought to the publication’s attention and its removal. The Committee further noted that Clause 6 (i) requires the Committee to consider whether the publication of editorial content amounts to an unnecessary intrusion into pupils’ freedom to complete their time at school. The Committee further noted that the terms of Clause 6 (i) apply to children who are in full-time compulsory education, regardless of the educational setting; a reading of the Clause which did not also cover children who are being schooled in a non-traditional setting, as in this case, would be contrary to the spirit of Clause 6. In this instance, the Committee found that the continued publication of a comment publicly identifying the complainant’s son as one of the perpetrators of the alleged crime clearly intruded on his schooling, and that the intrusion was unnecessary. Therefore, the Committee found that publication of the February comment, once it became “editorial content” from 17 June 2022, breached the terms of Clause 6 (i).

32. Turning to the terms of Clause 2, the February comment identified the complainant’s son as one of the children who was alleged to have been involved in the assault on the man in the public car park and provided no information about her son’s private or family life. The Committee noted that the right of children to privacy during their time at school and to anonymity when arrested is protected by the more stringent terms of Clause 6 and Clause 9 (iii) respectively. Notwithstanding that the terms of Clause 6 (i) had been breached for the reasons above, the Committee did not find a further breach of Clause 2.

33. The complainant also said that the May article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1, as it had disclosed that her child had had his bail extended prior to her being made aware of the fact. While the Committee understood that the complainant was unhappy to have been informed of her son’s bail extension in this manner, she did not dispute the accuracy of the reporting, or say that her son’s bail had not been extended in the manner described in the article. Where the complainant did not allege that the article was inaccurate, distorted, or misleading on this point, there was no breach of Clause 1.

34. Concerns were also raised by the complainant that publishing information about her child’s bail extension represented a breach of Clause 2, Clause 6, and Clause 9. Taking each alleged breach in turn, the Committee noted that the information revealed by the publication had been disclosed to it by the police, and related to the child’s arrest and subsequent bail. It also noted that: the child was not named in the article; this information had been put into the public domain by the police; and the article did not include information which the complainant had said identified her child. In such circumstances, it did not consider that the publication of these details represented an intrusion into the child’s private life in breach of Clause 2 or Clause 6. With regards to Clause 9, it noted that the terms of the Clause do not prevent newspapers from publishing information relating to a child’s bail arrangements, provided the child is not named. There was, therefore, no breach of Clause 9.

Conclusion(s)

35. The complaint was partly upheld under Clause 6 (i).

Remedial Action Required

36. Having partly upheld the complaint under Clause 6 (i), the Committee considered the remedial action that should be required. Given the nature of the breach, the appropriate remedial action was the publication of an upheld adjudication.

37. The Committee considered the placement of this adjudication, taking into account that the breaches arose from a Facebook comment posted by a member of the public. In reaching a decision on the best placement for the remedial action, the Committee was also mindful of other factors, such as: the seriousness of the breach of the Code and the public interest in remedying the breach.

38. The Committee noted that the breach arose from the identification of a child who had been accused of a crime, and further noted that the Code offers stringent protections for children, particularly those who are alleged predators of crime. Any breach involving the identification of a vulnerable child was, by its very nature, a serious breach. It further noted that there was a clear public interest in ensuring that the remedial action was visible to the readers of both the newspaper’s website and its Facebook page, to reiterate to the publication’s readers and other journalists that the identification of children accused of crime is a matter which engages the Editors’ Code of Practice. In addition, the Committee noted that publishing the adjudication on an online platform under the sole control of the publication – rather than under the control of both the publication and Facebook – ensures that the wording can remain accessible for as long as the website exists, and that the publication would retain control over how it is archived.

39. Taking these factors into account, the Committee decided that the adjudication should be published on the newspaper’s website, with a link to the full adjudication appearing on the top half of the homepage for 24 hours; it should then be archived in the usual way. A link to the adjudication should also be posted on the publication’s Facebook page, though the publication was not required to publish the adjudication in full on its Facebook page. The headline to the adjudication should make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint, refer to the subject matter and be agreed with IPSO in advance of publication.

40. The terms of the adjudication for publication are as follows:

Following a Facebook comment posted by a member of the public to cornwalllive.co.uk’s Facebook page in February 2022, a woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the publication breached Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. IPSO upheld this complaint and has required cornwalllive.co.uk to publish the decision as a remedy to the breaches.

The comment, posted by a Facebook user in response to an article, identified the complainant’s son as one of several children who had been arrested following an alleged incident of violence. The complainant’s son was, at the time of the comment’s publication, 14 years old.

The complainant said that the terms of Clause 6 (i) had been breached, as the comment’s publication had intruded into her son’s school time at school, in breach of that Clause.

The Committee noted arguments put forward by the publication about the comment being outside IPSO’s remit, but found that been given ample opportunity to review and moderate the comment, where it had been brought to its attention at least 19 days before its removal. Therefore, the Committee found that the comment fell within IPSO’s remit.

The Committee further noted that Clause 6 (i) is intended to safeguard children’s right to complete their time at school unnecessary intrusion. In this instance, the Committee found that the publication of a comment identifying the complainant’s son as one of the perpetrators of the alleged crime had the clear potential to intrude on his schooling, and the intrusion was unnecessary. Therefore, the Committee found that the continued publication of the comment breached the terms of Clause 6 (i).

IPSO found that the publication had allowed a comment which named a child to remain on its Facebook page for at least 19 days after it was brought to its attention. The publication therefore breached the terms of Clause 6.

Further complaints about an article published in May and another Facebook comment also published in May were not upheld.

 

Date complaint received:  12/05/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  04/05/2023

 

Independent Complaints Reviewer

The publication complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint, and – as part of its review – provided additional social media posts. The Independent Reviewer found that the IPSO process was flawed, as the Committee had not taken social media posts provided by the complainant into account when reaching its decision, and had not had sight of the additional social media posts provided by the publication. The Committee considered that, given the exceptional circumstances of the complaint – where it related to the welfare and privacy of a child, and the additional material had the potential to affect the decision – it was able to take the additional material provided by the publication into account. However, it stressed that it would only consider such additional material in exceptional circumstances. The complaint was therefore returned to the Committee to consider the complaint, and the Committee issued an amended ruling.

The publication then made a second complaint to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process following the first review was not flawed and did not uphold the second request for review.