Ruling

12352-22 A man v Scottish Daily Mail

    • Date complaint received

      20th April 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination, 2 Privacy, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 12352-22 A man v Scottish Daily Mail


Summary of Complaint

1. A man complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Scottish Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Blacklist isn't a racist word, tribunal rules”, published on 10 November 2022.

2. The article – which appeared on page 34 – reported on claims brought by the complainant against his former employer, IBM, before an Employment Tribunal. It reported that the complainant – identified as “AN ASIAN software engineer” in the opening paragraph and then by his age later in the article – had sued the organisation, “claiming to be a victim of race, disability and religious discrimination and victimisation” and that he had claimed he “was the victim of more than 30 acts of discrimination”. It reported that the complainant had lost his discrimination case “after claiming a colleague’s use of ‘blacklist’ was racist”, with the tribunal “ruling all of [the complainant’s allegations were unfounded, and his blacklist accusation was “‘contrived ... to bolster his own case’”. It said that the complainant made “other ‘puzzling’ accusations, including that his managers were performing ‘black magic’ and ‘voodoo’ on him”, with the tribunal finding that the complainant made “unsubstantiated allegations of racism to ‘support his views that every individual he interacted with was racist’”. It reported that after joining IBM the complainant “claimed his race was the reason he was denied promotions”; however, the “tribunal heard Asian staff had advanced to the ‘highest’ positions at IBM and [the complainant] simply had ‘unrealistic expectations of his own progression”. It then stated: “[t]hrowing out his claim, the judge said of [the complainant]: ‘We struggled with the plausibility and reliability of much of his evidence.”

3. The article was accompanied by a photograph of the complainant, captioned: “Accusations: [complainant’s name]”. The text of the article also detailed the complainant’s employment history at IMB, including his salary (“£55,000”); the department in which he worked (“one its cybersecurity departments” and “part of a team codenamed X Force Red”); and his location (“based at IBM’s Warwick office”).

4. The complainant disputed that the tribunal judgment – and by extension the article – gave a fair and true account of the matter. He said that his decision to appeal the judge’s ruling rendered the article inaccurate and misleading. He denied that his concerns at the tribunal related to the use of the term “blacklist”; instead they related in part to the emphasis placed on the word “black” by colleagues during a call. He added that the term “blacklist” was never mentioned in his claim and denied that he claimed it was a racist term.

5. The complainant also denied that he made allegations that his managers performed “black magic” and “voodoo” on him. He also denied that he considered every individual he interacted with at the organisation was racist; his claims were against a specific number of individuals at the organisation.

6. The complainant also said that he was a “cyber security consultant”, rather than a “software engineer” as reported. He also denied being “based at” the organisation’s offices in “Warwick”, as he worked remotely.

7. The complainant said that the article represented an unjustified intrusion into his private life, in breach of Clause 2. He said that the article, including the photograph and his personal details – such as his name, age, and salary – had been published without his consent. He confirmed that the photograph in the article had been shared on an internal platform at IBM.

8. Further, the complainant said that the article was discriminatory, in breach of Clause 12, as it referred to him as “Asian”. He also said that the publication of the article caused him distress, in breach of Clause 4.

9. The publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. It made clear that newspapers were entitled to report on Employment Tribunals. While the complainant might dispute the accuracy of the Tribunal’s findings, it said that the article was a fair and accurate summary of the publicly available judgment, which it provided to IPSO. It said that the Tribunal clearly set out how the complainant had alleged that the word “blacklist” was racist and that colleagues had performed “black magic” and “voodoo” on him. Further, it noted that the judgment found that an “allegation” of racial discrimination “had] been constructed after the event by the [complainant] as a way to bolster his claim and to support his views that every individual he interacted with was racist” at the organisation. It added that the judgment also stated that the complainant had been based at the organisation’s “Warwick” office. Further, the publication did not accept that its description of the complainant as a “software engineer” was significantly misleading where the tribunal described him as a “Security Consultant within the Cloud and Cognitive Software business unit”.

10. With regard to Clause 2, the publication said the complainant’s name and salary were referenced in the judgement; there was no suggestion that any reporting restrictions were in place, and the Tribunal ruling was published in full online. It also noted the inherent public interest in reporting on legal proceedings. Further, it said that the complainant’s age was already in the public domain; it was referenced on Companies House. In addition, the publication did not accept that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the photograph published: it showed only the complainant’s likeness and had already been published by a separate publication. The publication said it was entitled to report this information and did not breach Clause 2 in doing so.

11. In relation to Clause 12, the publication said that the complainant’s race was raised in the tribunal – which included claims of direct and indirect race discrimination – and was therefore genuinely relevant to the article.

12. The publication said that the terms of Clause 4 were not engaged: it did not restrict the reporting of legal proceedings.

Relevant Clause 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.

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 12 (Discrimination)

i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

Findings of the Committee

13. The Committee made clear that the publication was responsible for accurately reporting the findings of the Tribunal; it was not responsible for the findings made by the tribunal. In this instance, the article accurately reported the Tribunal’s findings regarding the complainant’s claims of “direct race and religious discrimination” and “race related harassment and victimisation”: the complainant alleged that a colleague’s use of the term “black-listing” at the time of George Floyd’s murder in the US was “racist”; alleged a colleague was performing “black magic” and a “sort of voodoo” on him; and found that a specific “allegation” of discrimination had been “constructed” by the complainant “after the event [to] bolster his claim and to support his views that every individual he interacted with was racist”. The judgement also stated that the complainant’s team was “based” in the organisation’s “Warwick” office. In these circumstances, the Committee did not consider that the article’s coverage of the complainant’s claims or the findings of the Tribunal were inaccurate or misleading – even in circumstances where the complainant sought an appeal of the judgment. As such, there was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

14. Further, the Committee found that the article was not significantly inaccurate or misleading to describe the complainant’s job title as “software engineer”, in the context of the article as a whole, which focused on his discrimination claims, and where the Tribunal stated his title as a “Security Consultant within the Cloud and Cognitive Software business unit”. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

15. The Committee next considered the concerns raised under Clause 2. This Clause is designed to ensure that an individual’s private life is respected. In this case, the information included within the article – details regarding the complainant’s claims against his employer, his name and his salary – related to a professional context, were referenced during his Employment Tribunal, and had been placed in the public domain. Nor did the Committee consider that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to his age; this information was already in the public domain. It also noted that the photograph showed only the complainant’s likeness; it did not reveal any private information about him or show him engaged in any private activity. In addition, the image had been already been shared on an internal platform at a large, multi-national organisation as well as by a separate publication prior to the article’s publication. For these reasons, the Committee did not consider that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of the information contained within the article and its publication did not represent an intrusion into his private life. There was no breach of Clause 2.

16. Clause 12 bars irrelevant and pejorative references to certain, protected characteristics of an individual. In this case, the article covered the complainant’s Employment Tribunal which ruled on his claims of direct and indirect race discrimination. In this context, reference to the complainant’s race was considered genuinely relevant and not pejorative or prejudicial. There was no breach of Clause 12.

17. The Committee next considered the complainant’s concerns under Clause 4. The Committee noted that the article was a report of Employment Tribunal proceedings. Clause 4 makes clear that it does not restrict the right for publications to report on legal proceedings. The Committee understood that the publication of the article was upsetting for the complainant, but it was an accurate report of his Employment Tribunal and there was no breach of Clause 4.

Conclusion(s)

18. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

19. N/A

 

Date complaint received:  15/11/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  04/04/2023