Ruling

Resolution Statement – 18176-22 A man v The Sunday Times

    • Date complaint received

      22nd June 2023

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Resolution Statement – 18176-22 A man v The Sunday Times


Summary of Complaint

1. A man complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sunday Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “The global hacking network that targets VIPs” and an article headlined “Hackers for hire”, both published on 6 November 2022.

2. The first article reported on a hacking organisation available for hire by “investigators working for autocratic states, British lawyers and their wealthy clients”. It reported that some of the hacking “work appear[ed] to have been commissioned by a businessman who runs a European investment fund”.

3. The first article also appeared online in substantially the same format under the headline “"Exposed: the global hacking network that targets VIPs”; this version of the article was published on 5 November 2022.

4. The second article reported on a “criminal network [that] will infiltrate the computers of VIPs for the right price”. The article contained a section with the heading “THE ROOTS OF INDIA’S ILLICIT TRADE”. It described a firm which had been set up “supposedly” to train "’ethical’ hackers”, however said it had “secretly established a lucrative sideline taking cash from clients around the world to hack individuals”. This firm was described in the article as “one of the [Indian hacking industry’s] founding fathers”. The article named the complainant as the founder of the firm in question, and reported that he had said his involvement with the firm "only related to ‘robotics, artificial intelligence and ethical hacking’”. It contained a photograph of the complainant accompanied by the caption “William and Kate were introduced to [the complainant], founder of the [named] ‘hacking’ firm”. Within the article, this meeting was described as follows: “Remarkably, [the complainant] was introduced to the then Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at a networking event in 2016 […]”.

5. The second article also appeared online in substantially the same format under the headline “Caught on camera: confessions of the hackers for hire”; this version of the article was published on 5 November 2022.

6. The complainant said that both articles were inaccurate, misleading and distorted in breach of Clause 1. He said the articles portrayed him as ‘a criminal godfather’ who was responsible for the criminal conduct of the company he founded – which was a distorted depiction of his role - he had not been involved in the company he founded for several years.

7. In particular, the complainant said the description of his firm as a “hacking” firm gave the impression the firm engaged in criminal hacking – which he disputed. He also said that the photograph included in the second article have the misleading impression that he had a larger role in the narrative of “hackers for hire” than was actually the case, and the heading implied the firm he founded was a front for illegal hacking. He also said it was inaccurate to report that it was “remarkabl[e]” that the Duke and Duchess had met him.

8. The complainant believed the reference in the first article to an unnamed "businessman who runs a European investment fund" related to him – and that people who knew him would know this description applied to him, in particular where he was referred to by his name in the second article. He said that the description of him having “commissioned” hacking work was not accurate.

9. In response to a direct complaint received from the complainant, the newspaper added a note below the headline of both articles stating that the article was subject to a legal complaint from the complainant. These notes were later amended to state that they were subject to a legal complaint from the complainant and other individuals. The complainant thought this was inaccurate as it gave the misleading impression that these were joint legal complaints, rather than separate ones.

10. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the first article simply referred to “a businessman who runs a European investment fund". It said that said this description could describe thousands of individuals.

11. With regards to the second article, the publication did not accept that the article misleadingly implied that the company founded by the complainant was engaged in illegality or that the company was a front for illegality. It said it was accurate to report that the company founded by the complainant was a "founding father" of the hacking industry; as those who trained there ethically went on to be implicated or involved in illegality. The publication noted that the article did not report that the complainant presided over any illegality; that the company was a front for illegality; or that the complainant founded the company to be a hacking firm. 

12. The publication said that the use of the word “remarkable” was not inaccurate as it was not a statement of fact, but a descriptive word and a matter of opinion. It also said that the inclusion of the photograph was to illustrate the story and its inclusion in the article did not engage the terms of Clause 1. The publication also said that notifying readers the article was subject to a legal complaint was not inaccurate, even if there were more than one party making such a complaint.

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.

Mediated Outcome

13. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.

14. During IPSO’s investigation the publication offered to delete the complainant’s name and image from the online version of the second article.

15. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to his satisfaction.

16. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.

 

Date complaint received:  20/12/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  26/04/2023