Ruling

10225-21 A man and a woman v Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald

    • Date complaint received

      12th May 2022

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      2 Privacy, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 10225-21 A man and a woman v Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald

Summary of Complaint

1. A man and a woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “[A woman] cycles to Beatson to thank them for saving her life”, published on 15th September 2021.

2. The article reported that a named woman, who was a “breast cancer survivor”, had completed a charity cycle ride along with a “big group of family and friends including husband [name] and daughter [name]”. It stated that the cyclists had travelled “to the treatment centre that helped save her life” and that the money raised was going to the centre as well as “North Ayrshire Cancer Care”. The article also reported that the woman “wears a t-shirt that has become her motto during her training and inspiration to herself and the others, it simply says, ‘It came, we fought, I won, Survivor’”. The article also included an image of the group of cyclists and was captioned, “[A woman], centre, and the cyclists set off from Stevenston”.

3. The complainants were the woman mentioned in the article as being a “breast cancer survivor” and her husband, who had also been mentioned in the article. They said the article breached Clause 2 because it disclosed her medical condition without her consent. The complainants stated that the woman had met the journalist, who was an acquaintance of the family, coincidentally roughly two weeks before the charity cycle ride. The journalist had said she wanted to write an article covering the forthcoming ride and the woman agreed but had not mentioned her medical condition at any time, as she had not wanted her condition to be made public, but rather wanted to focus on the charities which would benefit from the ride. The complainants noted that the fundraising page for the ride did not mention the woman’s condition. Originally, the fundraising page included an image of the cycle route, and, after the ride had been completed, it was changed to an image of the group.

4. The complainants also said the article breached Clause 2 because it had included the name of the man and their daughter without consent.

5. The complainants also said the article breached Clause 4 because the inclusion of the woman’s medical condition had caused her significant distress.

6. The publication said it did not accept a breach of Clause 2. It said that the woman and the reporter had known one another for ten years and had bumped into each other in town. They had discussed the charity bike ride and the journalist, who had already been aware of the complainant’s illness, proposed publicising it in an article. The woman had been receptive to the idea of an article and told the journalist she would be in touch following the event. The publication stated that the reporter had not been made aware that the woman did not want to make public the reason for the cycle ride or her personal connection to the beneficiaries. Following their conversation, the reporter believed the woman’s illness was public knowledge. The publication said that, after the bike ride, it received a submission from a third party via the “send us your news” section on the website. This submission, from a named individual who was not the complainant, had stated that the bike ride was a way for the complainant to show her gratitude for the treatment she had received; it included the woman’s first name and her medical condition, along with photographs from the bike ride, as well as request for a call back if the publication decided to use the story. The submission had also included the names of the complainant’s husband and daughter. The publication stated that the names of the husband and daughter were in the public domain because they appeared on the woman’s public Facebook page.

7. The publication said that, in the image included in the article, which had been taken during the 50-mile bike ride, the complainant could be seen wearing a pink top that read “It came, we fought, I won. Survivor”, a phrase it said was commonly associated with the woman’s illness, accompanied by an image of a ribbon.  Over this top, she wore a pink sparkly brassiere. Images of the complainant wearing this top also appeared on her public Facebook page where she had been promoting the event.

8. The publication also did not accept a breach of Clause 4. It said that no insensitive approaches had been made as, in a conversation between the woman and the reporter, the woman had supported coverage of the event and indicated that she would be happy to speak about it. The coverage also concerned a public event, and no request was made for the woman’s illness to be excluded.

9. The complainants said that the online submission had not been made by them but had come from another source without their knowledge or consent.

10. The publication said the reporter was aware of the name of the sender and that it was not the complainant. However, the reporter assumed that, following the earlier conversation with the woman, and because she was expecting coverage of the event with photos, this was the way the complainants had chosen to share the information and that this person was acting on their behalf.

11. Notwithstanding its position, the publication offered to work with the complainants to write an article highlighting the work of the charities.

12. The complainants said the images provided by the publication in which the woman was seen wearing a t-shirt that said “It came, we fought, I won. Survivor” did not identify her as being affected by a particular illness as the slogan made no reference to any condition.

13. The complainants did not accept the publication’s offer as a way to resolve their complaint.

Relevant Code Provisions

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 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.

Findings of the Committee

14. The Committee first extended its sympathy to the woman and acknowledged the sensitivity of the issues raised by the article.

15. The article had revealed that the woman had survived breast cancer. Clause 2 states that everyone is entitled to respect for their private life, which includes their health, and requires editors to justify an intrusion into an individual’s private life without consent. In assessing whether such an intrusion is justified, the Committee will take into account an individual’s own public disclosure of information and the extent to which it is already in the public domain. The Committee therefore had to decide whether the woman had consented to publication of the information by the publication; whether she had otherwise disclosed the information; and the extent (if at all) to which the information was already in the public domain.

16. The woman had discussed the upcoming cycle ride with someone she knew was a reporter and who had suggested writing an article on the subject. The reporter had said she was aware of the woman’s medical condition, having been informed by a relative of the woman at a fitness class. The woman had not made clear that she did not want her diagnosis made public. The complainants stated that the fact the woman had suffered from breast cancer had not formed part of the conversation with the journalist, and that the conversation had focused on the purpose of the cycle ride: to raise money for two charities. The reporter, an acquaintance of the complainant, had assumed that her previous medical condition was public knowledge. The Committee expressed concern over this assumption: personal medical information constitutes private information, and where the condition was not mentioned in the conversation between the complainant and the reporter, this conversation did not constitute consent by the complainant for the publication of the information about her medical condition.

17. The Committee then considered whether the submission made to the publication by a third party constituted consent for the publication of the woman’s medical information. The submission had clearly been made by an individual other than the woman and, furthermore, had requested direct contact should the publication wish to use the submitted material. The publication had assumed that this represented the information it was expecting regarding the cycle ride and photos of the event and had not taken steps to establish whether the information had been provided with the knowledge and consent of the woman. The Committee did not consider the submission of the information was sufficient to constitute consent to publish the information about the woman’s diagnosis. The Committee therefore concluded that the publication had published this information without consent.

18. The Committee then considered the extent to which this information had already been publicly disclosed by the woman. The woman had posted images on her public social media page that showed her wearing a pink t-shirt with a ribbon that bore the slogan “It came, we fought, I won, Survivor.” She had also shared images on her public social media page in which she wore this t-shirt along with a pink bra, worn on the outside of the t-shirt, in the context of promoting the charity cycle ride. An image of her wearing this outfit also formed her profile picture on her fundraising page. She had also worn this outfit out in public during the cycle ride. The image included in the article and later added to the fundraising page showed that she was the only individual in this specific outfit. The Committee considered that the slogan and ribbon on the t-shirt effectively disclosed her cancer diagnosis, and the colour of the t-shirt and the bra indicated the type of cancer – breast cancer. This information had been established in the public domain through the public social media page, and on the fundraising page.

19. The Committee sympathised with the complainant’s desire to exercise control over the disclosure of her medical diagnosis, but it concluded that she had disclosed the information by wearing attire on the cycle ride that effectively communicated her status as a breast cancer survivor, which had been further publicised for the purpose of promoting the fundraiser. It had been established in the public domain to a sufficient extent that she no longer had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to this information, and accordingly its inclusion in the article did not constitute an intrusion into her privacy. There was no breach of Clause 2.

20. The Committee then considered whether the inclusion of the names of the man and their daughter represented a breach of Clause 2. Their names had also appeared on the woman’s social media page and so were established in the public domain. In addition, someone’s name or familial relationship to another individual is not usually considered private information. As such, there was no breach of Clause 2 on this point.

21. Finally, the Committee considered Clause 4. The Committee were sympathetic and sorry to hear that the woman had suffered distress because of the article. However, it did not consider that the publication of the article, which promoted a charity event promoted by the complainant, related to an incident of grief or shock, or that the publication had handled it insensitively. As such, there was no breach of Clause 4.

Conclusion(s)

22. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

23. N/A


Date complaint received: 25/09/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 22/04/2022