Ruling

14277-23 Booley v birminghammail.co.uk (Birmingham Live)

    • Date complaint received

      5th October 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 10 Clandestine devices and subterfuge, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 14277-23 Booley v birminghammail.co.uk (Birmingham Live)


Summary of Complaint

1. Michael Booley complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that birminghammail.co.uk (Birmingham Live) breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), and Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Prince Harry's army instructor breaks silence on 'inaccurate' story about him in Spare”, published on 22 January 2023.

2. The article, which appeared online only, reported on comments the complainant had made regarding his experience accompanying the Duke of Sussex on a flight training exercise, which the Duke had subsequently described in his autobiography. It reported that “Ex-Sergeant Major Michael Booley said he was ‘staggered’ by what was written about him in the book.” It then reported that the complainant had “said: ‘I am staggered by this. In shock even.’ He continued: ‘Whilst the book compliments me, the recollection of the sorties and lessons is inaccurate, I’m afraid.’” It also directly quoted the complainant as having said “I think the reference to the flying sorties has been dramatised. I think it’s a result of the ghost writing.”

3. The complainant said that the article breached Clause 1, and said that the article had presented his statement that he was “staggered” and “in shock” in an inaccurate and misleading manner. He said the article presented his shock as being due to the alleged inaccuracies in Prince Harry’s story – whereas in reality, he was in shock at being mentioned, and complimented, in the autobiography.

4. The complainant also said that the article inaccurately suggested that he believed the alleged inaccuracies in the autobiography were due to the Duke. The complainant said he actually believed these inaccuracies were due to the autobiography being ghostwritten. He also said that the conversation which formed the basis of the article was extensive and that the publication had cherry-picked parts of it in a way that breached the terms of Clause 1.

5. The complainant also said that Clause 2 and Clause 10 may have been breached, as he had heard strange noises on his iPad and telephone – though he did not specifically say that the publication had caused these noises.

6. During IPSO’s investigation, the complainant provided it with the messages between the complainant and a reporter at another publication, which acted as a basis for the article under complaint. The reporter had, during the conversation, sent the complainant a list of quotes he said he wanted to include in the article. This included the following:

"am staggered by this. In shock even. Whilst the book compliments me, the recollection of the sorties and lessons is inaccurate I’m afraid”.

7. During the conversation, the complainant also said “The book is [g]host [w]ritten and there fire inaccuracies [sic] are apparent […] I would not go so far as saying ‘Harry was mistaken’ […] it is ghost written […] so very unfair to conclude Harry actually said it […] it may well be the writer who has presented it that way to dramatise it”.

8. The publication did not accept that the article breached the Code. Turning to the question of whether the publication had presented the complainant’s comment that he was “in shock [….] staggered even” in a misleading manner – where he said that had actually been said positively in response to the book – the publication noted that the complainant didn’t dispute having said this. It also noted that the complainant had sight of the context in which the publication planned to use this quote prior to publication, and raised no objections at the time.

9. The publication said it did not consider that the terms of Clause 2 or Clause 12 were engaged by the complainant’s concerns.

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 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge)*

i) The press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices; or by intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, messages or emails; or by the unauthorised removal of documents or photographs; or by accessing digitally-held information without consent.

ii) Engaging in misrepresentation or subterfuge, including by agents or intermediaries, can generally be justified only in the public interest and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means.

Findings of the Committee

10. The complainant had said that his comments that he was “shocked and staggered” had been taken out of context, as this was actually him expressing surprise and pleasure at having been mentioned in the book – rather than a comment on any inaccuracies within the autobiography. However, these comments had been made in the context of a discussion about what the complainant saw as an inaccurate recollection of the flying exercise. Taking these factors into account, and on balance, the Committee did not consider the article inaccurate, distorted, or misleading on this point, and there was no breach of Clause 1.

11. The complainant considered that any inaccuracies within the book would have been as a result of the book being ghost-written, rather than as a result of the Duke, and considered that article should have made this clear. The Committee noted that the article did directly quote the complainant as having said “I think the reference to the flying sorties has been dramatised. I think it’s a result of the ghost writing.” The Committee considered that the article was not inaccurate in the manner suggested by the complainant on this point, and there was no breach of Clause 1.

12. Newspapers have discretion over the selection of material for publication, provided the Code is not otherwise breached. Therefore, concerns that the article had “cherry-picked” information did not represent a breach of Clause 1.

13. The complainant had expressed concerns framed under Clause 10 and Clause 2 in relation to unusual noises he had heard on his devices. However, he had not alleged that the publication was responsible for the interference, and the Committee therefore did not consider that there was sufficient basis to identify a possible breach of Clause 2 or Clause 10 in relation to the complainant’s electronic devices on the part of the publication.

Conclusion

14. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

15. N/A


Date complaint received: 05/06/2023

Dated decision issued by IPSO: 18/09/2023


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.