Ruling

13122-22 Parkinson v Doncaster Free Press

    • Date complaint received

      22nd June 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 13122-22 Parkinson v Doncaster Free Press

 

Summary of Complaint

1. Mark Parkinson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Facebook comments published in December 2022 by an account belonging to Doncaster Free Press breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

2. The comments which the complainant considered raised a breach the Code appeared below a Facebook post by a local MP about internet “trolls”. The exchange between the Facebook accounts of the complainant and publication were as follows:

The complainant: “Free press I notice don’t ban their anti Brexit and anti tr. olls [sic] like [a named third-party] who posts disgusting abuse comments. It’s a toxic echo chamber over there”

The publication: “@[the complainant] you were banned and remain banned for the vile abuse, racism and offensive names you were calling other users. You are not missed”

The complainant: “That’s a lie and you know it. Post where [I] said any of those things. Just utter rubbish. But you have posted Disgusting racism and vile abuse”

The publication: “@[the complainant] we can certainly assure you that we haven’t posted racism and abuse. We are totally against it. Hence why you were banned and will remain so.”

The complainant: “Utter rubbish. You are always posting racism and vile abuse allowing the disgusting threats of violence against Tory MPs and Farage by the likes of [named third-party individuals]. Post where I said any of those things you claimed dirty dirty smear merchants slandering a member of the public”

The complainant: “You are the one who came here crying because I called out your double standards. You can’t make up false accusations which you are doing again and adding more now lol. Everyone can see you are lying and posted zero proof for your claims. All while you let disgusting toxic posters stay on your site because they support labour and the EU. You got bitter over my anti brexit comments and showing up your lies. Grow up and get over brexit instead of still posting your anti brexit articles lol just disgusting your claims about me and I should go to a solicitor making public claims about me. You have no proof because it never happened.

The publication: “@[the complainant] feel free to drop an email to [named journalist] if you wish to discuss further”.

The complainant: “Nah, I took screen shots to provide that the paper [Doncaster Free Press] are publicly accusing me of racism with no proof what so ever. [Named journalist] using the [Doncaster Free Press] account to hide behind post disgusting personal attacks about people. I’m sure a solicitor will give me further advice on this so I suggest you apologise and remove the comment or back up your claims my racism.”

The publication: @[the complainant] we can assure you we haven’t. We abhor racism and abuse and will crack down on those who express such views

The complainant: Utter rubbish. You just accused me of it with no proof. You banned me years ago because of an argument with brexit with one of your toxic remainers. Now you come and make disgusting accusations about banning me for racism with no proof. You’re the racism [Named reporter] hiding behind your dfp and got into trouble for vile abuse asking “how many brexiteers [sic] had snuffed it" on twitter. Vile disgusting man!

The publication: @[complainant] move on Mark and stop bleating on about being banned by the Free Press at every opportunity. You can’t go around calling people paedophiles, sex abuser and the like and not expect to be called out for it”.

3. In a separate thread – on the same Facebook post – the complainant also commented:

The complainant: “Free press itself needs banning. I see they are posting more anti brexit news claiming food is more expensive is just an opinion and left out the good news from the same report that brexit helped UK food producers by creating less competition from the EU.”

The publication: “@[complainant] still upset we see for being banned off our page? Move on.”

4. Following this exchange, the complainant contacted the publication directly via e-mail to express his concerns with the statements made on Facebook. He said that the posts contained false allegations against him, requested that the publication provide evidence to substantiate the claims made, and requested that it remove the comments on social media. In response, a reporter for the publication told the complainant that it maintained its position: he was banned from the publication’s page for behaviour it deemed unacceptable.

5. The complainant said that the posting of these comments – as well as the subsequent e-mail exchange – constituted harassment and intimidation, in breach of Clause 3.

6. The complainant also said that the comments were inaccurate and unsubstantiated, in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy). This aspect of the complaint was not investigated for jurisdictional reasons; IPSO regulates “editorial content on electronic services operated by Regulated Entities such as websites and apps, including text, pictures, video, audio/visual and interactive content”. Because the comments had been written on a social media page that was not owned or under the control of the publication (the Facebook page of local MP), they did not fall within IPSO’s remit. By contrast, IPSO was able to consider the complaint under Clause 3 (Harassment) because it related to journalistic conduct.

7. The publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. It said that the publication was responding to criticism by the complainant, who had been banned from the newspaper’s own Facebook page for making offensive comments. It acknowledged that this was a robust exchange in which one of its reporters – using the publication’s Facebook account – defended the newspaper but denied that this constituted intimidation or harassment in breach of Clause 3. It added that when the complainant had contacted the publication directly – and following the exchange on Facebook – to query the ban, a reporter had sent him a succinct response explaining the reasons for that action which it considered to be appropriate given the nature and context of the post made by the complainant. It did not accept that its journalist had acted unprofessionally, or that there was any breach of Clause 3.

Relevant Clause Provisions

Clause 3 (Harassment)*

i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.

ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.

iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.

Findings of the Committee

8. The Committee recognised the challenges facing publications when responding to reader comments and other user generated content. The terms of Clause 3 do not prohibit journalists from interacting with members of the public via comments, but do set out that in any interactions with members of the public – whether face-to-face or via a digital medium such as social media comments – journalists acting on behalf of publications should ensure that they do not act in a manner which is intimidating or harassing.

9. In this case, the publication was responding publicly to criticism of the publication’s moderation policy by the complainant, setting out why it had chosen to restrict the complainant from commenting on its posts. Neither party disputed that the subsequent posts had resulted in a robust disagreement between the two parties, which had then continued via e-mail.

10. The question for the Committee was whether the publication had been intimidating or harassing toward the complainant. The Committee noted that, after the first comment, the complainant had continued to engage with the publication, responding to several of its comments before contacting the publication directly via e-mail. At no point during the exchange did the complainant request that the publication stop contacting him, and he had initiated both the comment threads on Facebook and the subsequent e-mail exchange. The publication had not made unsolicited contact with the complainant. While the complainant may have found the circumstances of his exchanges with the publication aggravating, in the context of a mutually robust argument carried out via social media and prompted by the complainant’s own criticism of the publication, the Committee did not find that the publication had acted in a harassing or intimidating fashion. There was no breach of Clause 3.

Conclusion(s)

11. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

12. N/A

 

Date complaint received:  13/12/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  31/05/2023

Independent Complaints Reviewer

The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.