Ruling

17762-23 McGregor v devonlive.com

    • Date complaint received

      27th September 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 17762-23 McGregor v devonlive.com


Summary of Complaint

1. Colin McGregor complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that devonlive.com breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Devo man blames poor eyesight for child abuse downloads”, published on 17 March 2023.

2. The article reported on the complainant’s conviction for “downloading images of child abuse”. It reported what was found on devices belonging to the complainant: “15 indecent images and movies. They included one in the most serious category of abuse involving very young children”. The article stated that the complainant “said he had installed software to look at adult pornography but due to his poor eyesight could not see the detail of more disturbing material which he encountered incidentally”, and that the “defendant told police he had been using specialist software to view adult porn”. The article reported that, whilst this was accepted by the court, the complainant was sentenced for “three offences of making indecent images of children”. The article described the complainant as a “porn viewer” and stated his IP address had been linked to “paedophile downloads”. The article also reported that the judge “said: ‘Your basis of plea is that you did not intentionally search for indecent images of children and they were obtained incidentally’” and that she “sentenced him on those terms and accepted he is genuinely remorseful”.

3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He refuted that he had ever told police that he had been searching for “adult porn”, and rather he said that he had been trying to use the software to download films for a friend and music for himself. He said that, during his sentencing hearing, he believed the prosecution had begun to advance the argument that he had been looking for adult pornography– however he was not able to clearly hear what either the prosecution or his defence were saying. He did say, however, that the judge had dismissed the prosecution’s arguments as the basis of plea had been accepted, and that therefore his own counsel had not rebutted it. The complainant also said, for this reason, it was also inaccurate to describe him as a “porn viewer”.

4. The complainant provided his basis of plea, which stated that he never attempted to source indecent material and had not viewed or shared the downloads, but that he pleaded guilty on the basis he "knew there was a chance that some of the images that he downloaded might be indecent".

5. The complainant also said the use of the term “paedophile” in the phrase “paedophile downloads” was inaccurate as it gave the misleading impression he was a paedophile, rather than a person who had inadvertently downloaded the material. He also considered that the term “specialist software” gave the impression that the software was specialist software for viewing porn.

6. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It said that a reporter was present at the court, and had taken contemporaneous notes. It provided IPSO with a copy of the notes, which it said stated: “Internet search history limited Sharasa [??] used to download adult porn. Due to poor eyesight couldn’t see details”. The publication also provided an email from the journalist, who said that this had been stated by the prosecution during the hearing. In addition, it noted that the complainant’s basis of plea was included in the article.

7. The publication said that it was not inaccurate to refer to the material as “paedophile downloads” where the material downloaded was of children and was indecent.

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.

Findings of the Committee

8. The article was a court report, and the Committee first made clear that the newspaper was responsible for accurately reporting what was heard in court, not the accuracy of what was heard by the court. The complainant said he had not “told police he had been using specialist software to view adult porn”, as reported in the article.  However, he did not dispute that the claim that he had used software for this purpose had been advanced by the prosecution during his trial. Further, the publication had provided contemporaneous notes of the court hearing which recorded that the use of software to download adult porn had been referred to during the proceedings, which demonstrated the care taken by the publication to accurately report what had been heard in court.  The Committee noted that the disputed point did not form part of the charges against the complainant and that it was mentioned in the article as a possible explanation as to how the complainant had come into contact with the images for which the he had been prosecuted.  The article also accurately reported the offences to which the complainant pleaded guilty and the basis of the complainant’s plea – including that he “did not intentionally search for indecent images of children and they were obtained incidentally”. In these circumstances, the disputed point did not amount to a significant inaccuracy and there was no breach of Clause 1 .

9. The complainant also objected to the use of the word “paedophile”. However, where the word was used to describe the downloaded material, and where it was not in dispute that the downloaded material included sexual abuse of children, it was not inaccurate to describe the material as “paedophile downloads”. The complainant had also said it was inaccurate to use the term “specialist software”, as the program he had used to download the material was not specialist software to download pornography – it could also be used to download music and films. The Committee noted that the article did not state it was specialist software for such material. Where the software was specially created for the download of material (whether pornography, child abuse, or material such as films or music) it was not inaccurate to describe it as “specialist software”. There was no breach of Clause 1.

Conclusions

9. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

10. N/A

 

Date complaint received:  27/03/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  24/08/2023