Ruling

12775-17 A Man v The Gazette (Paisley)

    • Date complaint received

      28th September 2017

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 11 Victims of sexual assault, 2 Privacy, 7 Children in sex cases

Decision of the Complaints Committee 12775-17 A Man v The Gazette (Paisley)

Summary of complaint

1. A man complained on behalf of a person that The Gazette (Paisley) breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 7 (Children in sex cases), and Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault) of the Editors’ Code of practice in two articles published in 2017.

2. This decision is written in general terms, to avoid the inclusion of information which could identify a victim of sexual assault.

3. The first article reported that an individual had pleaded guilty to sex offences against a child. It reported the age of the victim when the offences began, and the time period over which the offences took place, by reference to the month and year. It reported the circumstances in which the defendant had come into contact with the victim, with reference to a specific day of the week. The second article reported that the individual had been given a jail sentence for the offences; it reported the period over which the offences occurred, by reference to the month and year, and also made reference to the circumstances in which the offences took place, although in less detail than the first article. The second article contained an image of the defendant and his spouse, outside of court. Both articles reported the current age of the victim and elements of what the court was told had been the defendant’s comments on the offences. 

4. The complainant said that by including certain details from the court hearings, the publication had failed to protect the identity of the victim, on whose behalf he was complaining. He was concerned that the publication of the photograph of the defendant would contribute to the victim’s identification. The complainant was concerned that the articles contained graphic detail about the nature of the offences, which he said should not have been repeated outside of the court hearing. He was concerned that the defendant’s explanations for his actions were incorrect, and that publication of these explanations had caused considerable distress to the victim.

5. The newspaper said that while the detail in the articles may be distressing, they were fair and accurate reports of the court proceedings: these details were necessary in order to enable the public to understand the facts of the offence and the nature of any defence or mitigation. The publication provided explanations as to why it did not believe that the specific pieces of information identified by the complainant were likely to contribute to the identification of the victim.

Relevant Code provisions

6. 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 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 7 (Children in sex cases)

The press must not, even if legally free to do so, identify children under 16 who are victims or witnesses in cases involving sex offences.

In any press report of a case involving a sexual offence against a child -

i) The child must not be identified.

ii) The adult may be identified.

iii) The word "incest" must not be used where a child victim might be identified.

iv) Care must be taken that nothing in the report implies the relationship between the accused and the child.

Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault)

The press must not identify victims of sexual assault or publish material likely to contribute to such identification unless there is adequate justification and they are legally free to do so.

Findings of the Committee

7. In accordance with the principle of open justice, the newspaper was entitled to report on this case, to identify the defendant, including by publication of his image. However, Clause 11 of the Code requires that, in doing so, it did not publish material likely to contribute to the identification of the victim. The Committee considered that the details the articles contained about the circumstances in which the defendant committed the offences against the victim were of the kind that would be known within the victim’s community. When reported alongside the time frame of the offences, and the age of the victim, these details represented material which was likely to contribute to the identification of the victim. The complaint was therefore upheld as a breach of Clause 11.

8. Clause 7 relates to the identification of children who are victims or witnesses in cases involving sex offences. In this case, while the offences were committed when the victim was a child, the victim was an adult at the time of publication. For this reason, Clause 7 was not engaged. The victim’s right to anonymity was protected by Clause 11, in this case.

9. The Committee recognised that the details about the nature of the offences were extremely sensitive. However, these details had been heard in court, and the newspaper was entitled to report these in accordance with the principle of open justice. Reporting these details did not breach Clause 2.

10. The defendant’s comments on the offences had been referred to in court, and the newspaper was entitled to report these, in accordance with the principle of open justice. While the Committee acknowledged that the complainant strongly objected to his remarks, it was not inaccurate for the articles to report that these remarks had been made, and there was no breach of Clause 1.

Conclusion

11. The complaint was upheld

Remedial Action required

12. Having upheld the complaint under Clause 11, the Committee considered that the appropriate remedy was publication of an adjudication.

13. The 24 May article was published on page 5, and the 28 June article was published on page 9. The Committee required the newspaper to publish the adjudication on page 5, or further forward in the newspaper. The headline of the adjudication must make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint against The Gazette, and refer to its subject matter; it must be agreed in advance.

14. The adjudication should also be published on the newspaper’s website, with a link to the full adjudication (including the headline) appearing on the homepage for 24 hours; it should then be archived in the usual way. The publication should contact IPSO to confirm the amendments it now intends to make to the online article to avoid the continued publication of material in breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

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

Following two articles published by The Gazette in 2017, a man complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Gazette had breached Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. Clause 11 of the Code requires that the press must not identify victims of sexual assault or publish material likely to contribute to such identification unless there is adequate justification and they are legally free to do so.

The articles reported that a man had pleaded guilty to sex offences against a child, and that he had been given a jail sentence. The complainant was complaining on behalf of the victim.

The complainant said that by including certain details from the court hearings, the publication had failed to protect the identity of the victim, on whose behalf he was complaining.

The newspaper said that the details reported in the article were necessary in order to enable the public to understand the facts of the offence. It provided explanations as to why it did not believe that the details in the article were likely to contribute to the identification of the victim.

IPSO’s Complaints Committee made clear that, in accordance with the principle of open justice, the newspaper was entitled to report on this case, to identify the defendant, including by publication of his image. However, Clause 11 of the Code requires that, in doing so, it did not publish material likely to contribute to the identification of the victim.

The Committee considered that the details the articles contained about the circumstances in which the defendant committed the offences against the victim were of the kind that would be known within the victim’s community. When reported alongside the time frame of the offences, and the age of the victim, these details represented material which was likely to contribute to the identification of the victim. The complaint was therefore upheld as a breach of Clause 11.

Date complaint received: 30/05/2017
Date decision issued: 15/08/2017