Ruling

22051-23 A woman v Aberdeenlive.news

  • Complaint Summary

    A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Aberdeenlive.news breached Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article published in October 2023.

    • Date complaint received

      30th May 2024

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      11 Victims of sexual assault, 2 Privacy, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock

Decision of the Complaints Committee 22051-23 A woman v Aberdeenlive.news

Summary of Complaint

1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Aberdeenlive.news breached Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article published in October 2023.

2. This decision is written in general terms, to avoid the inclusion of information which could identify a victim of sexual assault.

3. The article reported on the court case of a man who had pleaded guilty to the rape and assault of a woman not previously known to him, the complainant. The article described the rape and assault, and included details of the attack, in addition to quoting comments by the defendant during the attack. The article also quoted the prosecutor, who had described the complainant’s reactions during the attack. The article also contained the following information: it noted the attack had taken place in the complainant’s home; referred to the suburb her home was in; specified the date and time of the attack; described her as female; and gave her age.

4. The complainant said that the article had not reported on her rape and assault in a sensitive way, in breach of Clause 4. She said that, whilst she understood the story should be reported, the level of detail included in the article intruded into her grief and shock. Whilst she criticised the level of detail overall, she specifically objected to the detailed description of her physical reaction to the attack and publication of comments made to her by her attacker during the attack. She said the publication of this level of detail had re-traumatised her. The complainant said she had chosen not to share many of the details included in the article with people who were aware that she had been attacked, and was distressed they could now read it. She said that, for the same reasons, the article had intruded into her private life in breach of Clause 2.

5. The complainant was also concerned that the article may lead to her identification as a victim of sexual assault, when considered in conjunction with other information which was already in the public domain. She noted that the article included the suburb lived in and her age – and noted that previous articles, which she provided, included her street level address and had included an image of her home which showed part of her garden and front door. The complainant said that no one had identified her to her face – though she thought this was because people in the local area would not act in this way. She did, however, say someone had identified her to a friend and that it was generally known in the area that the story was about her.

6. The publication firstly apologised for any upset and distress the complainant had experienced by the publication of the article, stating this was not its intention, but that this was a risk when publishing information about serious crimes. Whilst it did not accept a breach of the Code, it did remove two sentences from the article, which included the reference to the complainant’s reaction during the attack and other details about the incident.

7. With regards to the Code, the publication noted that all of the information under complaint had been heard in open court, including the details of the attack, the complainant’s reaction to the attack, and the words used by the attacker. It said much of the detail under complaint was taken from a quote from the prosecutor, which it considered it was entitled to report. It said that there was no breach of Clause 4 on this basis, where the Clause explicitly protects the right to report on legal proceedings. The publication said that by being stated in court, and the additional anonymity of the complainant in the article, meant that no private information had been disclosed and it did not consider that there had been a breach of Clause 2.

8. The publication also said there was no breach of Clause 11, as it did not consider that it had published any information which was not already in the public domain. The publication provided a series of articles which had been published in June and November which detailed: the road name and area the attack took place on; the date of the attack; an image of the house on street view; and the age and gender of the victim. It said it had not added any further information about the attack then was present in these articles. The publication also said it had taken care in order to reduce the likelihood of the victim being identified, such as not publishing the street name or any imagery of the location.

Relevant Clause Provisions

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 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock)

In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. These provisions should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.

Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault)

The press must not identify or publish material likely to lead to the identification of a victim of sexual assault unless there is adequate justification and they are legally free to do so. Journalists are entitled to make enquiries but must take care and exercise discretion to avoid the unjustified disclosure of the identity of a victim of sexual assault.

Findings of the Committee

9. The Committee expressed its sympathies to the complainant.

10. It first considered the complaint that the report had intruded into her grief and shock and breached Clause 4. The Committee made clear that the publication was entitled to publish the article: journalists’ right to report on court proceedings is an essential part of open justice, and is also in the public interest. Reporting on criminal matters will, in some cases, lead to the publication of information that might be distressing to victims and others connected to the case. Clause 4 is clear that this is not in itself a justification for curtailing the right to report legal proceedings; the complainant had also acknowledged that the publication was entitled to report on her case. However, the terms of Clause 4 still apply, and in particular, the requirement for publication to be handled sensitively.

11. The Committee considered closely the two elements of the story that the complainant had specifically alleged constituted insensitive publication, balancing the requirements of Clause 4 against the well-established right to report on matters heard in open court.

12. When considering the specific parts of the article the complainant had alleged breached Clause 4, the Committee found that, whilst such details clearly caused distress to the complainant, details surrounding the nature of the crime itself, which were heard in court, did not amount to an intrusion into the complainant’s grief and shock. Whilst the attack itself was clearly horrific, these details set out the crime committed by the attacker, and did not seek to make light of, or contain unnecessary detail of, the attack.

13. However, the Committee had concerns regarding the references to the complainant’s physical reaction to the attack contained within the article. These details did not amount to, or form part of, the crime committed by the attacker – but rather were the complainant’s personal reaction as the victim of a horrific crime, deeply personal and with the clear potential to be extremely intrusive to the complainant. The Committee recognised that in some circumstances the publication of such personal and intrusive details may be justified. However, no such justification was put forward in these circumstances for the Committee to consider; the publication did not suggest that it had considered its obligation to handle publication sensitively and reached the decision that the publication of these details was warranted. After detailed consideration, the Committee concluded that in the context of the crime and article, the inclusion of this extremely personal information about the complainant’s physical reaction to the attack amounted to an unnecessary level of detail which intruded into her grief and shock. There was a breach of Clause 4 on this point.

14. The Committee then considered the complainant’s concerns that she had been identified by the information in the article, in conjunction with information which had already been published. The information which had been included within the article identified the suburb the complainant’s home was located in; specified the date and time of the attack; and gave the complainant’s gender and age. The Committee considered that this information, in and of itself, was not capable of identifying the complainant.

15. Turning to the further information that had been published prior to the article, the Committee noted that the same information published by the publication was already in the public domain. In addition, some articles had gone further than the article under complaint – for example, publishing the street name or an image of the house. The Committee found that, where the article under complaint had not published information which could lead to the identification of the complainant in and of itself, and where it had not published any information which was not already in the public domain in relation to the attack, it could not be considered to identify the complainant. There was, therefore, no breach of Clause 11.

16. The Committee finally considered the complaint that the article intruded into the complainant’s privacy. It noted that the article did not identify the complainant and was based on information that had been made public in court. The Committee concluded that, notwithstanding its finding that publication had not been handed sensitively, the complainant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to this information, and the article had not intruded into her privacy. There was no breach of Clause 2.

Conclusions

17. The complaint was upheld under Clause 4.

Remedial action required

18. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or an adjudication; the nature, extent and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

19. As the article breached Clause 4, and the breach could not be remedied by way of a correction, the remedial action required was an adjudication. The Committee considered the placement of this adjudication. It should be published online, with a link to this adjudication (including the headline) being published on the top 50% of the publication’s homepage for 24 hours; it should then be archived in the usual way. A link to the adjudication should also be published as a footnote to the article.

20. The headline to the adjudication should make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint, reference the title of the newspaper and refer to the complaint’s subject matter. The headline must be agreed with IPSO in advance.

21. The terms of the adjudication for publication are as follows:

A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Aberdeenlive.news breached Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article published in October 2023.

This complaint was upheld, and IPSO required that Aberdeenlive.news publish this adjudication to remedy the breach of the Code.

The article reported on the court case of a man who had pleaded guilty to the rape and assault of a woman not previously known to him, the complainant. The article described the rape and assault, and included details of the attack. The article also quoted the prosecutor, who had described the complainant’s reactions during the attack.

The complainant said that the article had not reported on her rape and assault in a sensitive way, in breach of Clause 4. She said that, whilst she understood the story should be reported, the level of detail included in the article intruded into her grief and shock. Whilst she criticised the level of detail overall, she specifically objected to the detailed description of her physical reaction to the attack. She said the publication of this level of detail had re-traumatised her. The complainant said she had chosen not to share many of the details included in the article with people who were aware that she had been attacked, and was distressed they could now read it.

IPSO made clear that the publication was entitled to publish the article: journalists’ right to report on court proceedings is an essential part of open justice, and is also in the public interest. Reporting on criminal matters will in some cases lead to the publication of information that might be distressing to victims and others connected to the case. Clause 4 is clear that this is not in itself a justification for curtailing the right to report; the complainant had also acknowledged that the publication was entitled to report on her case. However, the terms of Clause 4 still apply, and in particular, the requirement for publication to be handled sensitively.

IPSO considered closely the element of the story that the complainant had complained constituted insensitive handling, balancing the requirements of Clause 4 against the well-established right to report on matters heard in open court. IPSO had concerns regarding the references to the complainant’s physical reaction to the attack contained within the article. These details did not amount to, or form part of, the crime committed by the attacker – but rather were the complainant’s personal reaction as the victim of a horrific crime, deeply personal and with the clear potential to be extremely intrusive to the complainant. IPSO recognised that in some circumstances the publication of such personal and intrusive details may be justified. However, no such justification was put forward in these circumstances for IPSO to consider; the publication did not suggest that it had considered its obligation to handle publication sensitively and reached the decision that this was warranted.

After detailed consideration, IPSO concluded that in the context of the crime and article, the inclusion of this extremely personal information about the complainant’s physical reaction to the attack amounted to an unnecessary level of detail which intruded into her grief and shock. There was a breach of Clause 4 on this point.

Date complaint received: 02/11/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 14/02/2024

Independent Complaints Reviewer

The publication complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.