Ruling

15070-23 Djanogly and Silk v The Daily Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      3rd August 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 15070-23 Djanogly and Silk v The Daily Telegraph


Summary of Complaint

1. Jonathan Djanogly MP and Rebecca Silk complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Tory MP’s housekeeper was treated ‘worse than slave’”, published on 6 February 2023.

2. The article reported on the experience of a housekeeper who had worked at properties owned by the complainants, who are husband and wife. The article reported that “a former housekeeper to a senior Tory MP has claimed that she was treated ‘worse than a slave’ after taking his wife to court for unpaid wages.” It said the housekeeper had told another publication that “she ‘worked like a dog’ and sometimes had to fulfil 16-hour days to complete all the tasks she was set.” The article also reported that the ex-housekeeper “took his wife, who employed her under her maiden name of Silk, to court and won an £886 pay out”, and that “Mr Djanogly refused to help after she wrote to him about her unpaid wages”. The article then said that another publication “reported that an unnamed second housekeeper who later worked for the couple also won a case against them. She was awarded £3,148 in unauthorised wage deductions, overtime and annual leave by an employment judge, the paper said.” It finished with: “Mr Djanogly was contacted for comment.”

3. On 5 February, the day before the article was published, the publication contacted Mr Djanogly at his parliamentary email address. This email noted that another publication had reported allegations against the complainants and that it was following these up in a report to be published the next day. The complainant did not respond to this email.

4. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format, under the headline “Tory MP’s housekeeper was treated ‘worse than slave’ at £7m home”.

5. The complainants said that the article was in breach of Clause 1, as they said it had reported the employment tribunal findings inaccurately. It said that the tribunal “did not find the two claimants to be mistreated, let alone be slaves”.

6. The complainants also said the article was inaccurate because the publication appeared to have based the article on claims made by another publication, without speaking to anyone involved nor providing evidence for the claims.

7. The complainants also said that had Mr Djanogly’s rebuttal statement on the matter – which he said had been used in other media – been included, the article would have been more balanced. 8. The complainants also said that the article breached Clause 2 because it referred to their home life, which they considered private. Furthermore, they said the article breached this Clause because it was Ms Silk who was the respondent in the employment tribunal, rather than Mr Djanogly. They questioned whether the tribunal findings would have been reported on had Mr Djanogly not been a member of parliament.

9. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It said the word “mistreatment” did not feature in the article, nor had the article at any point stated as fact that the women were slaves. It said it had quoted directly from the ex-housekeeper – who had said that she was treated “worse than a slave” – and distinguished the quotes from her as her comment on her experiences, in both the headline and the article itself, as it was required to do under the terms of Clause 1.

10. The publication said balance was not an issue covered by the Code and therefore Clause 1 was not engaged on this point.

11. The publication did not accept that the complainant’s concerns that claims had been taken from another publication’s article without speaking to anyone else involved engaged the Code. It said issues of syndication were not covered by the Code and there was no standalone prohibition against publishing information which has first appeared elsewhere, where the Code is not otherwise breached. It noted that, in any event, it had approached one of the complainants for comment, and he had not responded.

12. The publication also did not accept a breach of Clause 2, as there was no information in the article over which the complainants had a reasonable expectation of privacy. It said the employment disputes between the complainant and the two ex-housekeepers had led to open court proceedings with no reporting restrictions; these proceedings, and all information disclosed during them, were therefore a matter of public record. It further noted that while Ms Silk was listed as the housekeepers’ employer, the role of housekeeper was a domestic position undertaken at the family home and Mr Djanogly benefited from the services of the housekeepers – it was not in dispute that he was also resident in the home where the housekeeper worked. It also noted that Mr Djanogly’s relevance to the story at hand was demonstrated by the fact he had been approached by one of the ex-housekeepers for wages and had refused to assist her.

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.

Findings of the Committee

13. The Committee firstly considered whether the employment tribunal findings had been reported inaccurately. The headline stated the “housekeeper was treated ‘worse than slave’”, and the complainants disputed that this was the case and the tribunal had not made any such finding. The Committee first noted the headline at no point claimed to be a summary of the tribunal findings. Additionally, the Committee noted the use of the term “slave” in the headline appeared within inverted commas, which suggested that this was a characterisation or viewpoint and that the article would elaborate further on what was meant by the term. The first sentence of the article then explained: “a former housekeeper to a senior Tory MP has claimed she was treated ‘worse than a slave’ after taking his wife to court for unpaid wages’”. The use of the inverted commas as well as the word “claimed” demonstrated the term “slave” was a characterisation of the housekeeper of her personal experience, rather than a claim of fact that the tribunal had made any such finding. It was also made clear that the housekeeper had spoken “after taking [one of the complainants] to court”, and therefore that this had not been heard during the tribunal itself. Where the claim was clearly distinguished as the housekeeper’s view of her experience, the basis on which her view was formed was set out in the article, and it was made clear that the case itself resulted from “unpaid wages”, there was no breach of Clause 1 found on this point.

14. The Committee then considered the complainants’ concerns that the claims in the article had been taken from another article without speaking to the people involved, or providing further evidence. In circumstances where the Committee had not found that the article was inaccurate, distorted, or misleading, this did not represent a failure to take care, and there was no breach of Clause 1.

15. The complainant said that, as the article did not include a statement from Mr Djanogly, it was not balanced. There is no requirement in the Code for articles to be “balanced”. The Preamble to the Code states that the fundamental right to freedom of expression includes the ability to be partisan. Where there were no inaccuracies identified in the article, there was no obligation for the publication to ensure the article was “balanced”. There was no breach of Clause 1.

16. The Committee then considered the complainants’ concerns about the article being in breach of Clause 2 because it had reported on information about their private home life. The Committee first noted that all the information disclosed in the employment tribunals was in the public domain and the complaints had no reasonable expectation of privacy over this information. The Committee then noted the complainants had not identified any information specifically in the article that they considered private, rather their concern appeared to be that the article represented a general intrusion into their private home life. However, the information in the article did not reveal any personal or intimate details about the couple’s home life. Rather, the article focused on the behaviour of the couple in a professional rather than personal context - their roles as employers of the ex-housekeepers. There was no breach of Clause 2 on this point.

Conclusions

17. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

18. N/A

 

Date complaint received:  07/02/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  13/07/2023