Ruling

09833-21 A man v Mail Online

    • Date complaint received

      20th January 2022

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock, 9 Reporting of crime

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 09833-21 A man v Mail Online

Summary of Complaint

1. A man complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Moment two yobs brawl with team of bouncers outside Yates bar in Essex - before one doorman floors reveller”, published on 13 September 2021.

2. The online article reported on a fight outside a pub in Essex. It reported that mobile phone footage captured the moment the “brawl erupted” and a “security guard punche[d] a man in a black shirt and appear[ed] to knock him unconscious”. The video footage showed the moment of contact and the individual lying on the floor motionless. The article included a number of still images from the video which it stated was shared on Twitter and had been “viewed more than 30,000 times”.  It added that people on social media were quick to condemn the violence and both Essex Police and the venue were approached for comment.

3. The complainant, the father of the individual knocked unconscious, said the article presented a misleading account of the incident in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy). He said that the article made no reference to the actions that preceded the incident and implied criminality on the part of his son by describing him as a “yob”.  Furthermore, he said that the publication of the footage was insensitive in breach of Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock), showing the moment his son was knocked unconscious and suffered serious injury. He also said that the coverage represented a breach of Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) in the light of ongoing criminal proceedings and potentially constituted contempt of court.

4. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. It said that the article reported on the content of a publicly-available video, which had been uploaded onto social media three days prior to publication. It said the article did not accuse his son of any wrongdoing; the article described him as a “reveller” who was “floored” by one of the bouncers rather than a “yob”. Instead, this term referred to the two individuals who were shown in the footage throwing punches and grappling with the bouncers.

5. Whilst the publication accepted that the reporting of the injuries sustained by an individual could, in certain circumstances, constitute a breach of Clause 2, it did not accept that this was the case in this instance. The complainant’s son was not identified either by name or likeness. It noted that the low resolution of the footage ensured that his features were not readily discernible, with the blow itself difficult to see in the melee and the still image taken from the video showing him lying face down on the floor. It added that the video was widely disseminated and viewed on social media prior to publication, attracting more than 30,000 views.

6. In addition, the newspaper did not accept that the article’s publication breached Clause 4. Whilst it acknowledged that the footage had the potential to be shocking, it said that showing the video in its entirety, including the moment the complainant’s son was knocked unconscious, was not insensitive in circumstances where he was not identified; the video showed the brawl in its entirety with the report of the injury sustained by the complainant’s son peripheral to the account of the event; the injury was not life-threatening or catastrophic; and the video had been widely circulated prior to publication. It added that the article did not seek to mock or ridicule the incident. Instead, the content was presented in the context of a serious investigation by the police into an array that subsequently led to multiple arrests. It noted that Essex Police had later requested members of the public to come forward with information concerning the incident, with the article later updated to include this statement; the article had sought to help with the police’s appeal.

7. The newspaper did not accept that the article had engaged the terms of Clause 9, as it had not included any references to a relative of an individual accused of crime.

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 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. 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 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock)

In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. These provisions should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.

Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime)*

i) Relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story.

ii) Particular regard should be paid to the potentially vulnerable position of children under the age of 18 who witness, or are victims of, crime. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.

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.

The Public Interest

There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.

The public interest includes, but is not confined to:

- Detecting or exposing crime, or the threat of crime, or serious impropriety.

- Protecting public health or safety.

- Protecting the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.

- Disclosing a person or organisation’s failure or likely failure to comply with any obligation to which they are subject.

- Disclosing a miscarriage of justice.

- Raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public.

- Disclosing concealment, or likely concealment, of any of the above.

There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.

The regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will become so.

Editors invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they reasonably believed publication - or journalistic activity taken with a view to publication – would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest and explain how they reached that decision at the time.

An exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16.

Findings of the Committee

8. In cases of grief or shock, Clause 4 states that publication should be handled sensitively. The complainant said that the publication of the video of the incident had been insensitive. The Committee noted that the footage had been freely available and circulating on social media prior to publication for several days prior to its publication in the article under complaint. In addition, the Committee did not consider the complainant’s son identifiable: he was not named and the quality of the video too poor to render him identifiable to readers who were unaware of his involvement in the incident. In such circumstances, where the complainant’s son was not identifiable and the footage was so widely available prior to publication, the Committee concluded that its republication in this context did not represent a failure to handle publication sensitively. There was no breach of Clause 4 of the Editors’ Code.

9. Furthermore, the Committee did not consider that the complainant’s son had a reasonable expectation of privacy over the information included in the article in circumstances where he was not identified; the incident took place in a public place in front of numerous onlookers; the video had been published on a social media platform and had received over 30,000 views prior to the article’s publication.  As such, the article did not represent an intrusion into the son’s private life. There was no breach of Clause 2.

10. The Committee then considered the concerns raised under Clause 1. The complainant had raised concerns that the article had described his son as a “yob” and as such implying a level of criminality and violence on his part. The footage of the incident showed that the complainant’s son had been involved in the incident and this had formed the basis of the publication’s characterisation of him as a “yob”; the Committee did not establish that this was inaccurate or misleading. The article had not apportioned blame but described the information included within the video. The newspaper was not obliged to report the events leading up to the incident, nor did the omission of this information render the article inaccurate or misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1.

11. The purpose of Clause 9 is to provide protection to family and friends of individuals convicted or accused of crime. As no such individuals were identified in the article, the terms of this clause were not engaged and there was no breach.

Finally, the Committee noted any concerns about contempt of court were outside the parameters of the Editors’ Code and its own remit. As such, the Committee made no ruling in reference to this aspect of the complaint.

Conclusion(s)

13. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

14. N/A


Date complaint received: 13/09/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 24/12/2021