Ruling

18056-23 Rizwan v walesonline.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      4th October 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 6 Children

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 18056-23 Rizwan v walesonline.co.uk


Summary of Complaint

1. Syed Rizwan complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that walesonline.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code in an article headlined “British hunter who poses with dead lions is 'not ashamed'”, published on 15 January 2023.

2. The article – which appeared online only – reported on an interview the complainant had given to another publication about his hunting practices. The sub-headline reported that the complainant “claim[ed] his 'sporting' activities help protect wild creatures from falling into the hands of poachers”. It reported that he had “attacked anti-hunt campaigners” for not "understanding everything that goes on", adding that a campaign to end trophy hunting was “wrong” and not “helping the animals” but “putting them more in danger”. It reported that the complainant: said that the hunt industry protects wild creatures from poachers; “dismissed claims of dwindling lion numbers”; compared African hunts to UK pheasant shoots where the birds are “reared for the hunt” and therefore do “not affect the wild population”; and said it was “stupid” for “anti-trophy hunting” people to object to the killing of a “zebra or a giraffe” but not a “deer”. The complainant also reportedly said: “What about animals that people shoot in this country [the UK]? What difference does it make to you when a life has been taken whether it is a lion or a deer?”

3. The article also reported information posted by the complainant on his Facebook page. It stated that the complainant – a “father of three” – listed his hobbies as “hunting”, “skeet shooting” and “fishing” on his Facebook page, next to “profile picture of him holding the mane of a dead lion in South Africa”. It reported that the complainant “removed” this image “once” contacted by another publication. It stated that, in another post on social media, he had written “out with the little hunter again” next to “dozens of images of his son at hunts in the UK, including one of the youngster smiling next to a dead deer”.

4. The article also: named the town where the complainant lived; identified the complainant as a director of a named company; and noted that his car number plate ended with the letters “GUN”. It was also accompanied by a series of photographs: two showed the complainant with his “trophies” from hunting and one showed the complainant outside his home speaking with a journalist – this image showed the front of the complainant’s vehicle, with the final three letters of his number plate (“GUN”) visible.

5. The article also reported that, “despite the increasing threat to many species, a “loophole allows the movement of hunting trophies in the international agreement on animal protection.” It stated that the “Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species [CITES] bans the trade, import and export of the body parts of endangered animals, other than in exceptional circumstances.” It then stated that “animals killed by trophy hunters [were currently] exempt” from these rules, and a Bill addressing the issue was currently passing through Parliament.

6. The complainant said he was the victim of a “doxing” campaign by the publication, and the article represented an unjustified intrusion into his private life in breach of Clause 2. He said that the article revealed the location of his family home, as it identified the town where he lived and his company which, he said, was registered at his home address. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 2 as it contained photographs of him standing outside his home. Further, he said that it contained a photograph of his car’s number plate – while it was partially obscured, the last three letters were clearly visible and therefore people in the local area would be able to identify him as the car’s owner.

7. He also said that photographs of him had been obtained from his private Facebook page and published in the article without his consent, in breach of Clause 2. He also said that the reference to his child within the article represented a breach of Clause 6, and referred specifically to the terms of Clause 6 (v), which states that editors should not use the notoriety of a parent as sole justification for publishing details of a child’s private life.

8. The complainant said that the article misrepresented his comments during the interview, in breach of Clause 1. He said that his comments were taken out of context and not reported “verbatim”. He said that his comment that “they don’t understand everything that goes on” was directed at journalists that covered this topic rather than members of the public. He also said that his comment about the double-standards in attitudes to hunting in the UK – involving the regular shooting of deer, pheasant, and partridge – was taken out of context. He also denied that he called anti-hunting campaigners “stupid”. He further denied that he “dismissed claims of dwindling lion numbers”, and expressed concern that the article omitted to make clear that “lion hunting pays for most lion conservation.

9. The complainant also denied that he “removed” a specific image from his Facebook page “once […] contacted” by another publication and said that this inaccurately implied that he was embarrassed by the image.

10. In addition, the complainant said that the article was inaccurate to report that a “loophole” allows the movement of hunting trophies in the international agreement on animal protection. He said that this was the case because national governments have the power to ban trophy import and exports, and the UK was in fact planning on banning such imports – though any ban would not apply to Northern Ireland. The complainant also denied that the CITES “bans the trade, import and export of the body parts of endangered animals, other than in exceptional circumstances.” He said that the actual aim of CITES was to “ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species” and that the export of species threatened with extinction was permissible should there be “the prior grant and presentation of an export permit”.

11. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 2, or that the article included sufficient information to identity the complainant’s home or reveal its exact location. It also noted that his address was already in the public domain; it had been published on the complainant’s own company website and featured on Companies House.

12. The publication also disputed that the complainant’s Facebook page was private. It provided screenshots of the complainant’s Facebook, which showed that the published information had been available publicly at the time of the article’s publication. It also noted that the complainant had shared a photograph of his vehicle, which displayed the full number plate, on his open social media accounts.

13. The publication did not accept that the terms of Clause 6 were engaged: the article did not name the complainant’s son, nor did they include any images showing him. In any event, it noted that the complainant had posted photographs of his son holding a firearm alongside animals that had been killed on his open and publicly available Facebook page.

14. With regard to Clause 1, the publication said that the article was an accurate report of the interview with the complainant. It said that this was demonstrated by an audio recording of the original interview between the complainant and another publication, which it provided to IPSO. It did not accept that it had taken the complainant’s comments out of context. In the recording, the complainant had said “everybody has the right to say whatever they want […] they don't know everything which is behind it” in response to the reporter saying that hunting was “controversial and some people are against it”. It also noted that the complainant said: “what about the other things people are shooting in this country, what difference does it make what life has been taken […] whether it is a lion or a deer?” and questioned the reporter on the difference between the hunting of certain animals. It also noted that the complainant used the term “stupid” during his conversation with the journalist.

15. The publication further said that the complainant had told the reporter they were “wrong” to say that lions were decreasing in number and denied that lions were on a list of threatened species. In addition, the publication noted that the complainant did not tell the reporter during their conversation that “lion hunting pays for most lion conservation”, therefore it was not inaccurate for an article covering the reporter’s interaction with the complainant to omit this. In any event, it was unable to ascertain whether this was factually accurate.

16. The publication did not accept that the article was inaccurate to report that the complainant had “removed” a specific image after being contacted by another publication. The complainant had updated his open Facebook profile picture, a few hours after he had spoken to the reporter, and it provided a screenshot to IPSO to demonstrate this.

17. Finally, the publication did not accept that the article was inaccurate to describe the current legislation which allows the movement of hunting trophies in certain circumstances as a “loophole”. In order to support it position, the publication shared a paper from the House of Commons Library on the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill.

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 6 (Children)*

i) All pupils should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.

ii) They must not be approached or photographed at school without permission of the school authorities.

iii) Children under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child’s welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.

iv) Children under 16 must not be paid for material involving their welfare, nor parents or guardians for material about their children or wards, unless it is clearly in the child's interest.

v) Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child's private life.

Findings of the Committee

18. The Committee first considered the complainant’s concerns under Clause 2. The screenshots from the complainant’s Facebook page provided by the publication had showed that the images included in the article were publicly available prior to the article’s publication. Regardless of whether the complainant had updated his privacy settings after being contacted by another publication, the information had been available in the public domain at the time of the publication of the article under complaint. The publication was entitled to report on information placed in the public domain and the Committee did not establish that the photographs contained any private information about him. The publication of this information did not therefore represent an intrusion into the complainant’s private life. There was no breach of Clause 2.

19. The Committee next considered whether the photographs included in the article, showing the complainant outside his home, breached Clause 2. The complainant said they identified him and revealed his address. The Committee noted that these photographs had revealed the complainant’s likeness and showed him in conversation with the reporter; this was information which could be seen by the members of the public from the public road. The Committee also noted that the complainant’s full address had not been reported. Rather, the article only named the town in which he lived, and the further information in the article – a photograph of the corner of his home – was not sufficient, in the Committee’s view, to reveal the exact location of the complainant’s home in the manner he suggested. They noted that, at any rate, the complainant’s full address appeared on his company’s website, and was therefore in the public domain. In these circumstances, the Committee found that the complainant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of this information and there was no intrusion into the complainant’s private life by its publication. There was no breach of Clause 2.

20. Further, the Committee did not consider that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy over the last three letters of his vehicle’s registration number. It considered this to be the case as: most of the car registration number had been pixellated; the vehicle would be visible to people passing by his home a public road; and he had previously published photographs of this vehicle on his open social media account. Nor did the Committee consider that the reference to his company in the article represented a breach of Clause 2: the article identified him in the context of his professional role as a director of the company, and this information was publicly available; this was not private information. There was no breach of Clause 2 on these two points.

21. The Committee noted that the publication had not identified the complainant’s child. The Committee considered that the brief and limited reference to the child in the article did not represent either details of the child’s private life or an unnecessary intrusion into the child’s time at school in breach of Clause 6.

22. The Committee next considered the concerns raised under Clause 1. The Committee acknowledged that the editing process might, on occasion, mean that verbatim comments by individuals are altered for publication, but also noted that the Code requires that any such changes do not misrepresent the comments of the individual in a significantly inaccurate, misleading, or distorted manner. In this instance, the recording provided by the publication showed that complainant had said: that people in general “don’t understand everything that goes on” in response to a direct question about how “many people” find the practice “controversial”; had discussed the double-standards in attitudes to hunting, stating that it was “stupid” that people objected to the killing of certain animals (for example, zebras) and not others (for example, deer); and denied that “lion numbers” were falling. These comments were accurately reflected in the article under complaint. In these circumstances, the Committee was satisfied that the publication had taken sufficient care under Clause 1 not to publish inaccurate or misleading information, and that no inaccuracy was established. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

23. In addition, the Committee did not consider that the omission of the claim that “lion hunting pays for most lion conservation” rendered the article significantly inaccurate or misleading. This claim had not been made during his conversation with this reporter and did not materially affect the accuracy of the article, which was a report of the complainant’s support for trophy hunting – it was clear from the article, at any rate, that the complainant considered trophy-hunting to be a positive activity. There was no breach of Clause 1.

24. Further, the Committee did not consider that the article was significantly inaccurate to report that the complainant had “removed” a specific image after being contacted by another publication: the complainant had updated his Facebook profile picture, after the reporter had contacted him, so that people viewing the page would not immediately see the image in question.

25. Finally, the Committee did not consider that the article was inaccurate to characterise current relevant legislation as containing a “loophole”, where it allowed for the movement of hunting trophies in certain and specific circumstances. Nor did it consider that the article misrepresented the legislation covering the imports of hunting trophies in a significantly inaccurate, misleading, or distorted manner: the Convention International Trade in Endangered Species relates to the trade in specimens of selected species to certain controls (including through a licensing system). There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

Conclusion

26. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

27. N/A


Date complaint received: 14/04/2023

Date decision issued by IPSO: 19/09/2023