Ruling

16940-23 Reeson v Sunday Mirror

    • Date complaint received

      6th July 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy

Summary of Complaint

1. Paul Reeson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Mirror breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “New Tory boss faces fresh questions 'over link to supremacists'”, published on 12 February 2023.

2. The article reported on a politician who, according to the article, had faced “mounting questions over his links to alleged Nazi-supporting members of a scooter club”. The article said that the complainant, who had been “seen with a trophy and shaking hands with [the politician], published a social media post telling British Muslims: ‘This is England, my England. If you don’t like me, or my fellow English men and women, leave our shores... or feel the wrath of the steel in my hand.’ The article included the image of the complainant with the politician. This image also showed another individual in the background of the photograph, who the article reported had previously been seen wearing a “neo-Nazi band T shirt”.

3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format under the headline “Deputy Tory chairman Lee Anderson faces fresh questions 'over link to white supremacists'”.

4.The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1, as it claimed he had published a social media post telling British Muslims: “This is England, my England. If you don’t like me, or my fellow English men and women, leave our shores... or feel the wrath of the steel in my hand.” The complainant said this was inaccurate; he said that he had not posted this image. Rather, in 2015, he had been tagged in the image without his knowledge.

5. The complainant further said that the post was not “telling” British Muslims to do anything and that the article had reworded the post to give a different impression of what it actually said. He also said that the image which appeared in the article, showing him, the politician, and another man in the background, had made him a “stool pigeon” to link the MP and the other individual pictured in the background of the image together.

6. The complainant said the article had breached Clause 2 (Privacy) as the newspaper had not asked his permission before publishing the image showing him with the politician. He reiterated that he believed the image was used to make him a “stool pigeon”, and said that this breached the terms of Clause 2.  

7. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. During direct correspondence between the publication and the complainant, it provided a screenshot of the Facebook post which the article referred to. The screenshot showed that the post had been posted by the complainant publicly, in 2015. It said: “My England We shall never be an Islamic state, we will never be run by Islamic values, this is England…MY ENGLAND! If you don’t like me or my fellow English men and women, leave our shores.. and leave our land, OR FEEL THE WRATH OF THE STEEL IN MY HAND”.

8. The publication said the article quoted the post accurately; it had clearly been posted by the complainant; and, given that the post appeared to be specifically aimed at followers of Islam, it was not inaccurate to report that the post was “telling British Muslims” to “leave our shores”, given the context and wording of the post.

9. The publication said the photograph which appeared in the article had been posted on a scooter club’s open Facebook profile. The publication provided a screenshot of the social media profile to demonstrate this. It also said that the photograph did not disclose any private or personal information about the complainant.

10. The complainant accepted that he had posted the social media post the article reported on, but said that he did not realise this at the time he made his complaint, as it had “disappeared” from his Facebook. He said that the article, however, was still inaccurate as it had claimed that the post was aimed at “British Muslims”. The complainant said that, by missing out the first part of the post, the article had changed the context of the wording to make him sound racist – when in fact, the social media post was a political message.

11. He also said that the post was shared on his personal account only and it was not in the public domain. He said that this was the case because, unless someone went through several years of his previous social media posts, the post would not have been visible to members of the public.

12. The complainant said that the scooter club had permission to post his image, however the publication had not obtained his permission.

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.

Findings of the Committee

13. The complainant ultimately accepted that he had shared the Facebook post referenced in the article. Nevertheless, the complainant had said that the article had misrepresented the post to make it sound racist, and that he was “telling British Muslims” to “leave our shores” – which he said was not the case.

14. In assessing whether this rendered the article significantly inaccurate, misleading, or distorted, the Committee was mindful of the original text of the post. It compared this to the article’s summary of the post. The article had stated that the complainant had “published a social media post telling British Muslims: ‘This is England, my England. If you don’t like me, or my fellow English men and women, leave our shores… or feel the wrath of the steel in my hand’”. Where the complainant had published a post which specifically referenced an “Islamic state” and “Islamic values”, it was not significantly inaccurate, misleading, or distorted to describe the social media post as “telling British Muslims” to “leave our shores”.

15. Further, while the complainant considered that the manner in which the post was described in the article gave the impression that it was racially motivated, the Committee noted that the article had not described the post itself in these terms; it had simply quoted a portion of the post as it appeared on the complainant’s own social media page. Where a substantial part of the post was quoted in a way that was not inaccurate, misleading, and distorted, readers would be able to reach their own conclusions as to its meaning. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

16. The complainant believed the image included in the article – which depicted the complainant shaking hands with the MP – had been used to link another man pictured in the background to the MP in question. The Committee noted that newspapers are entitled to choose which images and information they include in articles, provided they do not otherwise breach the Code. In this instance, the article reported on the MP’s links to various individuals; it was not inaccurate or misleading to include this image, which showed the individuals described in the article together. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

17. The image in the article had been obtained from a publicly available Facebook page, and the publication had been able to demonstrate this in the screenshot it had provided. While the Committee noted that the complainant had not posted the image himself, it was not in dispute that it had been posted on a public social media page and that the complainant had consented to the image being posted on this page. Turning to the image itself, and whether it revealed any information about the complainant over which he may have a reasonable expectation of privacy, the Committee noted that the image showed the complainant shaking hands with an MP in what appeared to be an outdoor public space; it did not reveal anything about the complainant beyond his likeness; the fact that he had met the politician in question; and that the complainant had been in the same public space as the other individual mentioned in the article. Taking all these factors into account, the Committee found that the publication was not required to seek the complainant’s consent prior to publishing the photograph, and there was no breach of Clause 2.

18. The complainant said that the social media post had been published on his personal account and had been posted several years earlier, meaning it was not in the public domain or easily accessible. The Committee noted that, while the post had been posted several years earlier, it was still accessible at the time of publication and remained on his publicly accessible profile. The Committee considered that the post was therefore in the public domain. In any case, the Committee had found that the post did not show anything private. The Committee did not consider the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy over the social media post and there was no breach of Clause 2 on this point.

Conclusions

19. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

20. N/A

Date complaint received: 01/03/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 21/06/2023