Ruling

10441-22 Yates v Retford, Gainsborough & Worksop Times

    • Date complaint received

      27th October 2022

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 10441-22 Yates v Retford, Gainsborough & Worksop Times

Summary of Complaint

1. Val Yates complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Retford, Gainsborough & Worksop Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Labour Party suspends vice chair over tweets”, published on 7 July 2022.

2. The article reported on the suspension of “Bassetlaw Labour’s vice chairwoman for campaigning pending investigation after it was believed that she posted abusive messages on Twitter”. It reported it was “believed” she had been “recently appointed to the role” of vice chairwoman for campaigning, but was not an officer within Bassetlaw Labour Party. The article contained a quote from a spokesperson for Bassetlaw Labour which stated that “Swift action has been taken and the individual concerned has been immediately suspended from the Labour Party”. It also reported that the newspaper had seen screenshots of the woman’s social media in which she was “criticising nearby towns and families”. The article reported the Twitter handle of the woman and the following descriptions of the tweets: on 12 June the woman posted “Had enough of the all-round [expletive] that is our Tory government. I decided rather than talk the talk I am going to walk the walk and in today’s local Labour Party AGM I was elected vice [chairwoman] for campaigning”; on 5 May she posted that the town of Worksop was an “utter [expletive] place where an earthquake would improve it”; on 20 May she posted “Oh the disappointment that a family of screaming kids have moved in next door to shatter the idyllic peace we came here for”; and that she posted to criticise a current Conservative MP as “rude” and “contemptuous”. The article also stated that “It has not been confirmed if the content of [the woman’s] tweets was directly linked to her suspension from the party”.

3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format. It was headlined “Labour Party suspends Bassetlaw vice chairwoman after controversial tweets” and was published on 1 July.

4. The complainant, the woman referred to in the article, said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. She said she was not, and never had been, the vice chair of the Labour party, and that she had not held any elected office in the Bassetlaw Labour Party, a point which she noted was included within the article.

5. The complainant also said it was misleading for the article to include the tweet from 20 May in which she had stated “Oh the disappointment that a family of screaming kids have moved in next door to shatter the idyllic peace we came here for”. She said she had been abroad at the time, and that the tweet was about a holiday villa, rather than her “criticising nearby towns and families”. She also said that her suspension had come about due to posts from her social media being digitally manipulated as part of a politically motivated campaign against her.

6. The complainant also said that the article intruded into her privacy in breach of Clause 2. She said that her suspension and investigation were confidential and should not have been published. The complainant provided a letter from the Labour party which requested the complainant “keep all information and correspondence relating to this investigation private and do not share it with third parties or the media”. She said that the person who had made the complaint about her to the Labour party, at approximately the same time as the article was published online, had identified her on social media and the Labour Party then confirmed her identity. The complainant said that the impact of this had breached the confidentiality restrictions, denied her right to a fair investigation and had caused distress to her and her wife.

7. The complainant also said that her social media account was private and that the publication should not, therefore, have posted the tweets. She also said that she was a private citizen and therefore no article should have been published about her as it was not in the public interest.

8. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said it had initially been approached by a confidential source, who advised that the complainant had been suspended as vice chairwoman of campaigning at Bassetlaw Labour pending an investigation regarding some posts on social media. The publication said that the source also provided screenshots of the tweets, and evidence that the social media profile was open to view by the public at the time the screenshots were taken, which it supplied to IPSO. The publication said it then contacted a press officer for the Labour Party for a statement, who emailed the following: "The Labour Party takes all complaints seriously. They are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures, and any appropriate action is taken […] On background, to be reported as it is understood that, [the complainant] has been suspended pending investigation".

9. One of the tweets supplied by the source, and included in the article, showed that the complainant had posted: “in today’s local Labour Party AGM I was elected vice for campaigning”. The publication noted that whilst the headline of the article had described the complainant as “vice chair” or “vice chairwoman”, this had been for brevity within the headline, and that the article had made clear in the opening paragraph that she was the “vice chairwoman for campaigning”.

10. The publication did not consider that it was significantly misleading to include the complainant’s tweet she had sent whilst on holiday. It provided a screenshot of the tweet in question, which was accurately reported and noted that the claims in the article that she had “criticis[ed] nearby towns and families” were supported by a separate tweet which had been published in the article in which the complainant openly described Worksop as an “utter sh**hole”. The publication provided further tweets including some which related to the election of the MP for Bassetlaw, in which the complainant stated: “because the Labour voting scabs forgot every last principal they ever had”; and “that shithouse was voted in by the Labour scabs in my constituency”. The publication did, however, offer to amend the sentence to read that “[the complainant] tweeted again on May 20, whilst abroad on holiday”. The publication noted that it put the claims to the complainant in advance of publication, but did not receive a reply.

11. The publication said that where the Labour Party press office, when answering a request for comment from a newspaper, had named the complainant as being suspended pending investigation, she had no reasonable expectation of privacy over her suspension. It also noted that the Labour spokesperson gave no indication that the matter was private, and that the local Facebook page had also publicly addressed the complainant’s suspension prior to the publication of the article, with a post that read “We are aware of comments made online by one of our members recently […] the individual concerned has been immediately suspended from the Labour Party”. The complainant was not named in this post.

12. In addition, the newspaper provided IPSO with screenshots of the complainant’s Twitter profile which demonstrated it could be viewed by people who were not following her, and copies of all the tweets included in the article.

13. The complainant accepted that she had been elected locally by four people to the position of vice chair of campaigning – but stressed that this was an unofficial title which carried far less weight than an actual vice chair role. She said that the newspaper easily could have put the full title of her position into the headline. She also said that her Twitter profile had been public until June when it was made private.

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.

Findings of the Committee

14. Firstly, the Committee stressed that its role was to assess whether the newspaper had breached the Editors’ Code. It could not comment on the Labour Party investigation into the complainant, and made clear that selection of material for publication is a matter of editorial discretion, and that newspapers have the right to choose which pieces of information they publish, as long as this does not lead to a breach of the Code.

15. The headline of the article had described the complainant as the vice chair/chairwoman, which the complainant had said was inaccurate, as in fact she only held the unofficial position of “vice chair for campaigning” which she had been elected to at a local level. However, the Committee noted that the article itself made her full title clear in the opening paragraph, and a reference to her position in the headline, albeit shortened for brevity, was not significantly inaccurate where her full title and connection to the Labour Party, including that she was not an official officer, were made clear in the article. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

16. With regards to the published tweets, the Committee first considered the context of the article – a report on the complainant’s suspension from the Labour Party due to her social media activity, and this point was not disputed by the complainant. It also noted that the article did not state that the tweets published within it were the ones the complainant was suspended for – instead it reported that the publication had sight of several screenshots of the complainant’s tweets which “criticis[ed] nearby towns and families”. The complainant had said it was misleading for one of the tweets she had published to be included in the article, as she had posted it whilst on holiday, and believed the article misleadingly implied the tweet was about local families, rather than the family next door to her whilst on holiday. It was accepted by the publication that the tweet regarding the family she had criticised was not a local family, however the newspaper had both published tweets within the article and supplied IPSO with yet other examples of the complainant’s tweets that demonstrated that she had criticised local towns, politicians and the people in her constituency who had voted for the MP for Bassetlaw, including calling such people “scabs” on more than one occasion. On balance, in circumstances where the complainant had criticised large groups of local people in her tweets, the Committee did not consider that it was significantly misleading to state that the complainant had published tweets which “criticis[ed] nearby towns and families”. Although it was accepted that the specific “families” tweet included in the article was not about local people, the article did not go so far as to make the link that this was the sole basis for describing her as criticising nearby towns and families. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point, though the Committee welcomed the publication’s offer to amend the online article.

17. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 2 as she had been told her suspension and investigation should be kept confidential. Clause 2 of the Editors’ Code makes clear that account will be taken of the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so, and covers information over which complainants have a reasonable expectation of privacy. The information in the article related to the complainant’s position within a public role that she had announced herself on social media. The complainant accepted that the person she believed had complained about her to the Labour Party had named her on social media prior to the publication of the article. In addition, the Labour Party press office had named her to the newspaper, and confirmed her suspension, as well as the Labour Party Facebook page confirming that a member had been suspended. In these circumstances, where the complainant’s investigation and suspension had already been published on social media, and where the newspaper had received information about this from a confidential source and the Labour Party itself, without any indication the information was private, and where the information related to the complainant’s public role, the complainant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy over the information and there was no breach of Clause 2.

18. The complainant accepted that her Twitter page had not been private until June. Where all the tweets in the article had been posted in the first half of June or earlier, and the publication had been provided with screenshots of them by someone who was not following the complainant, the Committee considered that the published tweets were in the public domain and there was no breach of Clause 2.

Conclusion(s)

19. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

20. N/A


Date complaint received: 09/07/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 10/10/2022