Ruling

13204-21 A man v Doncaster Free Press

    • Date complaint received

      28th April 2022

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      12 Discrimination, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 13204-21 A man v Doncaster Free Press

Summary of Complaint

1. A man complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Doncaster Free Press breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Autistic man punched in face in unprovoked town centre attack”, published on 23 December 2021.

2. The article reported that “an autistic man with mental health issues says that he was punched in the face in an unprovoked attack” in Doncaster town centre. It said that the man, “who asked not to be named”, had “come forward to speak of his ordeal” as the police had not yet issued details of the incident. It included the man’s recollection of the incident and a statement from South Yorkshire Police confirming that an individual had allegedly been assaulted and officers had conducted enquiries. The police statement included a description of the incident and the suspects, and urged members of the public to come forward with information.

3. The article also appeared online on 16 December 2021 with the headline “Autistic man punched in face in unprovoked Doncaster town centre attack”. The text of the article was substantially the same as the print version. However, the online version of the article identified the man by name.

4. The complainant, the man featured in the article, said that the article intruded into his privacy, in breach of Clause 2, by reporting that he was autistic and experienced mental health issues. He said that he did not consent for this information to be published, nor had he given permission for the publication to identify him: he was named in the online article. He said that the references to his mental health were irrelevant and as such discriminatory under Clause 12.

5. The publication denied that it had breached Clause 2 of the Editors’ Code. It said that the complainant had contacted the reporter directly, via e-mail, to request that the publication cover the story. The publication said that it had published the details provided by the complainant – including the complainant’s name, diagnosis with autism, and that he experienced mental health issues – in good faith. In the correspondence, the complainant stated: “I suffer with my mental health and autism so this assault has just made me feel worse than usual”. The publication said that it was generally the case that if an individual contacted a reporter or publication with a story, any subsequent conversation could be used as information for an article unless the individual made clear that they wished to remain anonymous or for certain information not to be published. It said that there was no suggestion within the correspondence between the parties that the complainant wanted to be anonymous, or for certain information he had provided not to published. It also noted that at no point did the complainant raise concerns about his identification in relation to the information he provided.

6. Furthermore, the publication did not accept that the references to the complainant’s mental health were prejudicial, pejorative, or irrelevant in breach of Clause 12; rather, these were details provided by the complainant to the reporter prior to publication and which it understood he wanted to include to emphasis the severity of the incident.

7. Nonetheless, on becoming aware of the complainant’s concerns, it had removed his name from the online article and ensured that this information was not included in the print article. This information was removed within three hours of the article’s publication. The publication also offered, as a gesture of goodwill, to remove the online article.

Relevant Code Provisions

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 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

8. The Committee recognised the distress the article’s publication had caused the complainant. The online article had identified him by name and disclosed his diagnosis with autism and his experience of unidentified mental health issues. The question for the Committee was whether the publication of this information represented an unjustified intrusion in breach of Clause 2.

9. In making this assessment, the Committee had regard to the correspondence between the complainant and the reporter prior to publication. Clause 2 states that IPSO will consider the complainant’s disclosures of information when considering complaints about privacy. The complainant had at the outset contacted the reporter, requesting coverage of the incident in the hope of progressing the police’s investigation into the matter. The complainant’s correspondence specifically referred to his diagnosis of autism and stated that he suffered with his mental health, with no indication that he wanted this information omitted from coverage of his story or that he wanted to remain anonymous. Where the information was provided freely to a reporter within the context of a submission of a story for publication, the publication was entitled to consider that the complainant had consented to the publication of this information. As such, the Committee could not find that the publication of this information constituted an intrusion into the complainant’s private life. There was no breach of Clause 2.

10. Clause 12 bars irrelevant and pejorative references to certain characteristics of an individual. This includes reference to their “mental illness or disability”. As stated, the Committee considered that the complainant had consented to the publication of his diagnosis of autism and experience of mental health issues and described this information about his health as an important part of his experience. Taken in this context, the publication was entitled to consider that this information was relevant, and it had not referred to the complainant’s health conditions in a pejorative or prejudicial manner. As such, the publication of this information did not constitute a breach of Clause 12.  

11. While the Committee did not find a breach of the Editors’ Code, it welcomed the steps taken by the publication when it became aware of the complainant’s concerns. 

Conclusion(s)

12. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

13. N/A


Date complaint received: 17/12/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 05/04/2022


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.