Ruling

12218-20 Faulkner v LancsLive

    • Date complaint received

      3rd December 2020

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      14 Confidential sources, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 12218-20 Faulkner v LancsLive

Summary of complaint

1. Keith Faulkner complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that LancsLive breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 14 (Confidential sources) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “The Blackpool road riddled with youth gangs 'abusing and threatening' residents” published on 28 July 2020.

2. The article reported on concerns raised by residents about antisocial and gang activity on their road. It named the road, and reported claims from one named resident that he had reported this behaviour to police more than 12 times in the past year, and now felt forced to move his family away from the area. The article included comments from other unnamed residents, and a response from the local police.

3. The complainant, the man named in the article, said that the article breached Clause 2 and Clause 14. He said that after tweeting the police about antisocial behaviour on his road, a reporter from the newspaper replied and asked whether she could message him directly to ask a few questions. He then had a conversation with the reporter via direct message, in which he expanded upon his concerns about the antisocial behaviour and his complaints to the police and council. Extracts from this conversation were then published in the article. The complainant said that when he spoke with the reporter via direct message, she did not make clear that some of his comments would be included in the article and she did not ask for his permission to publish them. He said that naming him in relation to his comments and reporting that he was a resident of the road constituted an intrusion into his privacy because his conversation with the reporter was private. He also said that the fact he was named despite there being a lack of an explicit agreement to do so constituted a breach of Clause 14. He said that he feared he would be the subject of reprisals now that his name had been identified alongside his concerns about the antisocial behaviour.

4. The newspaper did not accept that the article constituted a breach of the Code. It said that the complainant had already publicly identified himself as being concerned about antisocial behaviour on his road by tweeting at the local police under his own name and naming his road in his tweet. It also said that the complainant had previously tweeted his council to say that he had repeatedly reported these concerns to the police, the council and his MP, and that he was looking at moving out of the local area as a result. Therefore, it said that the article did not reveal anything about the complainant which was not already in the public domain, and therefore did not intrude into his privacy. It said that when the reporter tweeted the complainant, she made clear that she was a reporter acting on behalf of the newspaper. Furthermore, it said that it was clear from the direct messages exchanged between the reporter and the complainant that the reporter was gathering information for an article, and noted that the reporter made clear that she was writing an article by asking whether she could use the complainant’s photograph “in my piece”. It said that it was generally the case that if a reporter identified themselves as such, then any subsequent conversation could be used as information for an article unless the interviewee made clear that they wished to remain anonymous or the information they provided was off the record. It said that there was no suggestion that the complainant and the newspaper had agreed he would be a confidential source or that he wanted to be anonymous. It also noted that at no point did the complainant raise concerns about his identification in relation to the information he provided or asked for the conversation to be off the record, even when the reporter indicated that she was writing an article reporting on his concerns. Nevertheless, on receipt of the complaint it removed the complainant’s name from the article – when it was pointed out that one reference remained during the period of direct correspondence, the newspaper removed this too.

Relevant Code Provisions

5. 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. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information.

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

6. With regards to Clause 2, the Editors’ Code does not say that consent must always be given in order to publish information about a person. The question for the Committee was whether publishing the information included in the article about the complainant without his consent, in this instance constituted an unnecessary intrusion into his privacy.

7. In this case, the complainant had already disclosed on Twitter that he had made complaints to the police, local council, and MP about antisocial behaviour, and was thinking of leaving the local area as a result. These tweets were made publicly and under the complainant’s own name. Although these public tweets named the road the complainant had complained about, he was concerned that the article had revealed he was a resident of the road. However, the Committee considered that it was apparent from the public tweets that the complainant was a resident – he talked about feeling he had to move out of the area because of the antisocial behaviour. Furthermore, simply publishing that the complainant was a resident of the road did not provide his exact address. As such, distinct from the issue of whether the complainant was aware that his comments would be reported when he spoke with the reporter, simply reporting this information via the article did not constitute an unnecessary intrusion into the complainant’s privacy – this information was already in the public domain via the complainant’s own disclosure on Twitter and he did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of this information. There was no breach of Clause 2 on these points.

8. Clause 2 specifically references digital communications and correspondence as being entitled to respect as part of a person’s private life. In this case, the complainant said that regardless of the content of his messages to the reporter, including them in the article without his knowledge and consent constituted an intrusion into his privacy. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that these were private messages, but in circumstances where he was happy to make these comments to a person not previously known to him who had identified herself as a journalist and had made clear that she was writing an article, the Committee considered that these messages did not amount to private correspondence. As such, the complainant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy over these messages and reporting their contents did not intrude his privacy. There was no breach of Clause 2 on these points.

9. Clause 14 states that journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information.  Although there may be circumstances in which a journalist should take proactive steps to check whether a complainant is happy to be named, whether a source can reasonably be considered to be a confidential source will depend on the circumstances. In this case, the reporter had at the outset identified herself as a reporter from the newspaper and the line of questions and the request for permission to use the photograph indicated that she was writing a piece for publication. She had contacted the complainant because he had tweeted publicly about his complaint to the police and the council, and so therefore the essence of his concerns and his identity in relation to these concerns, was already in the public domain. The complainant had at no point indicated he wished to remain anonymous, or that his comments should not be reported in the article. For these reasons, the complainant could not reasonably be considered to be a confidential source in relation to the information he provided, and no breach of Clause 14 in naming him in relation to his comments.

Conclusions

10. The complaint was not upheld

Remedial action

11. N/A

Date complaint received: 04/08/20

Date complaint concluded: 18/11/20