Ruling

12346-21 A man v Lancashire Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      7th July 2022

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 12346-21 A man v Lancashire Telegraph

Summary of Complaint

1. A man complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Lancashire Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Man takes declaration”, published on 11 November 2021.

2. The article reported that a man had made a declaration of faith at a named mosque. It said that after taking the ‘Shahadah’ this man had changed his first name, which was included in the article, to “Muhammad”. The article went on to explain that the Shahadah is the Muslim declaration of faith and the first Pillar of Islam. It said that the man had “uttered the words in front of witnesses” at the mosque after weekly prayers, adding that “in a recording of the moment” the man was heard being welcomed into the community by the Imam. The article included the Iman’s comments at the ceremony, made reference to the area where the man was from and was accompanied by a photograph, captioned “CEREMONY: The man being hugged in the mosque”, which showed the back of an individual, dressed in white, being embraced by another worshipper whilst surrounded by a number of other attendees.

3. The article also appeared online on 10 November 2021 with the headline “[Name] is now Muhammad: Man's Islamic declaration of faith at Blackburn mosque”. The text of the article was substantially the same as the print version.

4. The complainant, the man featured in the article, said that the publication intruded into his private life, in breach of Clause 2 (Privacy). He said that the photograph and recording of the ceremony had been taken without his knowledge and consent while he had been making a private declaration of faith, which he said had taken place in the company of “loads” of fellow worshippers. He said that mobile phone devices were banned from the mosque, with signs at the entrance announcing this. He considered that the inclusion of his first name, the area where he lived, and the photograph, identified him to his family and friends – who were not aware of his conversion to Islam – as well as people living in the local area. This had caused him considerable distress and disrupted his private and family life

5. He said that the article was also inaccurate, in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy); he had not changed his first name to “Muhammad”.

6. The newspaper said the article was based on information provided by a source, and published in good faith. The source was a member of the mosque and an upstanding member of the local community, who regularly provided the newspaper with community-based content. Taken in this context, it noted that an individual affirming their new faith was a cause of celebration and news to share with the wider community. It demonstrated this by sharing an example where another mosque had shared, via social media, an individual partaking in a similar ceremony.

7. While the publication accepted that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy over the information included within the article, it did not accept that the complainant was identified; he was only referenced by his first name and the photograph did not show his likeness.

8. The newspaper also said that the information contained within the article had been put into the public domain prior to the article’s publication; the source had recorded the ceremony and captured the published photograph, sharing this information on SoundCloud and then subsequently within a WhatsApp Broadcast to potentially ‘hundreds’ of their contacts. It noted that during the recording the Iman had invited the local community to witness the Shahadah and welcome the complainant: “We would keep a gathering just for [the complainant] so that everyone in our community can witness [him] taking Shahadah today […] we are now inviting him collectively as a community. You’re part of our community. You’re part of our family. You’ve embraced the whole of Islam. You’re now just like my brother.” It did not accept that the mosque “banned” the use of mobile phone devices, or that there was a sign at the entrance indicating this. While it acknowledged that the mosque requested these devices remained on silent, and their use may be frowned upon by some worshippers, their use was not prohibited.

9. Further, it maintained that the article was an accurate summary of the recording, with the complainant’s first name and the area where he lived both stated by the Imam. In addition, the complainant’s decision to change his name to Muhammad was discussed, as heard in the recording: “Muhammad, we did propose some names isn’t it? We came up with the names of the prophets [..] and then we agreed to choose and stay on Muhammad”.

10. Notwithstanding this, upon receipt of the complaint, the newspaper amended the online article and removed the photograph, the complainant’s first name and any reference to where he was from. It subsequently offered to delete the online article. The complainant, however, did not consider this was sufficient. As such, the matter was passed to the Complaints Committee for adjudication.

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

11. Clause 2 of the Editors’ Code states that everyone is entitled for respect for their private and family life, and that editors will be required to justify intrusions into any individual’s private life without consent. It further states that it is unacceptable to photograph individuals without their consent where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

12. The photograph, which had been taken without the complainant’s knowledge, showed the complainant participating in a religious ritual, inside a place of worship. The text of the article disclosed additional information about him: his first name and the area where he lived. In the view of the Committee, the partial view of the complainant shown in the photograph, alongside the information in the article, made him readily identifiable within the small local community. It therefore effectively disclosed the fact of his conversion to Islam to those who recognised him. The complainant had not publicly disclosed this information; indeed, the article’s publication had caused him considerable distress

13. While an observer to the complainant’s Shahadah had recorded the ceremony and captured the published photograph, subsequently sharing this information online and via WhatsApp, the newspaper had not sought or obtained consent from the complainant himself. Furthermore, the Committee did not consider that the publication had demonstrated that the information had entered the public domain to any substantial extent; the publication had not been able to demonstrate how many people had viewed the WhatsApp message or the SoundCloud page prior to the article’s publication. In the view of the Committee, there were no grounds to conclude that the WhatsApp message or the SoundCloud recording had entered the public domain to the extent that it reduced or eliminated the complainant’s reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the information.

14. The Committee acknowledged that publication’s apparent intention to report on a positive community event, using information provided by an established member of the local community. It concluded however that publishing this private information, alongside a photograph of the complainant engaged in a religious ceremony inside a place of worship, constituted a significant and unjustified intrusion into the complainant’s private life. The article – both in print and online – breached Clause 2 of the Editors’ Code.

15. The Committee did not consider that it was inaccurate for the newspaper to have reported that the complainant had changed his name to “Mohammed”, in circumstances where the Iman had referred to him as such in the recording of the ceremony. As such, there was no breach of Clause 1 of the Editors’ Code.

Conclusion(s)

16. The complaint was upheld under Clause 2.

Remedial Action Required

17. Having upheld the complaint under Clause 2, the Committee consider the remedial action that should be required. Given the nature of the breach, the appropriate remedial action was the publication of an upheld adjudication.

18. The Committee considered the placement of this adjudication. The adjudication should be published in print, on or before page 13, where the original article appeared. 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.

19. The adjudication should also 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.

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

Following an article published on 11 November 2021 headlined “Man takes declaration”, a man complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the newspaper had breached Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

The article reported that a man had made a declaration of faith at a named mosque. It said that the man had taken the Shahadah, the first Pillar of Islam, “in front of witnesses” at the mosque after weekly prayers, adding that “in a recording of the moment” the man was heard being welcomed into the community by the Imam. The article included the Iman’s comments at the ceremony, made reference to the area where the man was from and was accompanied by a photograph, captioned “CEREMONY: The man being hugged in the mosque”, which showed the back of the complainant.

The complainant said that the publication intruded into his private life, in breach of Clause 2 (Privacy). He said that the photograph and recording of the ceremony had been taken without his knowledge and consent while he had been making a private declaration of faith, which he said had taken place in the company of “loads” of fellow worshippers. He considered that the inclusion of his first name, the area where he lived, and the photograph, identified him to his family and friends – who were not aware of his conversion to Islam – as well as people living in the local area. This had caused him considerable distress and disrupted his private and family life.

The publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. While the publication accepted that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy over the information included within the article, it did not accept that the complainant was identified. It said that the article was based upon information provided by a member of the mosque, and published in good faith. It further said that the information contained within the article had been put into the public domain prior to the article’s publication; the source had recorded the ceremony and captured the published photograph, sharing this information on SoundCloud and then subsequently within a WhatsApp Broadcast.

The photograph, which had been taken without the complainant’s knowledge, showed him participating in a religious ritual, inside a place of worship. In the view of the Committee, the article had contained sufficient information to identify the complainant within a small, local community. It therefore effectively disclosed the fact of his conversion to Islam to those who recognised him. The complainant had not publicly disclosed this information; indeed, the article’s publication had caused him considerable distress.

While the newspaper’s source had observed the complainant’s Shahadah and had subsequently shared the recording and photograph online and via WhatsApp, the newspaper had not sought or obtained consent from the complainant himself. In addition, the Committee did not consider that the publication had demonstrated that the information had entered the public domain to any substantial extent; the publication had not been able to demonstrate how many people had viewed the WhatsApp message or the SoundCloud page prior to the article’s publication. In the view of the Committee, there were no grounds to conclude that the recording and photograph had entered the public domain to the extent that it reduced or eliminated the complainant’s reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the information.

While the Committee recognised the publication’s apparent intention to report on a positive community event, using information provided by an established member of the local community, it concluded that publishing this private information, alongside a photograph of the complainant engaged in a religious ceremony inside a place of worship, constituted a significant and unjustified intrusion into the complainant’s private life. The article – both in print and online – breached Clause 2 of the Editors’ Code.


Date complaint received: 07/12/21

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 21/06/22