Clauses Noted: 1, 3
Publication: Stourbridge News
Rebecca Morris complained that an article headlined "Model pix cop has quit force", published in the Stourbridge News on 31 May 2012, was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice.
The complaint was upheld.
The article reported that the complainant had left her employment as a Police Community Support Officer following press reports about photographs of her modelling that had been published online.
The complainant denied the newspaper's claim she was "carving out a second career as a motor show promotions model"; she had not been paid for the photographs posted online, which had been taken as part of a hobby. She also considered that the article suggested, inaccurately, that she had left her job because of the publicity surrounding the photographs.
The newspaper took 45 days to provide an initial response to the complaint. While it noted that the article had been based on an agency report and stated that it therefore could not provide any details about the journalist's newsgathering methods, it denied having published any inaccuracies. It did not accept that its article had suggested that the complainant had left her job because of the previous press coverage of the photographs. It maintained that the complainant had promoted herself as a model seeking paid employment in that field.
The complainant had raised a number of significant concerns about the accuracy of the story. The Commission noted that the newspaper stood by its story. However, it had provided its initial comments on the complaint only after a delay of over six weeks, and it had not provided evidence to corroborate the disputed claims, including most substantively that the complainant had been "carving out a second career" as a model, or to demonstrate that it had taken care, as required by Clause 1 (Accuracy), not to publish inaccurate or misleading information.
The Commission was deeply concerned by the newspaper's handling of the complaint: it had failed to provide a substantive response within a reasonable timeframe, and it had suggested in correspondence that it could not comment on the newsgathering methods employed by the agency that had supplied the copy. The preamble to the Code makes clear that editors must "co-operate swiftly with the PCC in the resolution of complaints" and further that they should take care to ensure that the Code's terms are "observed rigorously by all editorial staff and external contributors". The Commission emphasised that this includes agency reporters who supply material to subscribing publications.
The Commission upheld the complaint under Clause 1 and noted that after issuing its decision it would seek confirmation that the newspaper understood its obligation under the Code to assist the Commission's inquiries promptly and fully.
The complainant also considered that the article was intrusive in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors' Code of Practice.
The complaint was not upheld.
The complainant said that the newspaper's publication of her name, age and area of residence was intrusive. She argued that this was a security issue, as she had previously received death threats when people had learnt that she worked for the police. The complainant also objected to approaches made to her neighbours by a journalist in an effort to obtain comment on the story.
The newspaper denied that its coverage had intruded into the complainant's privacy; it said that the photographs of the complainant had been freely available online at the time of publication, and that its article was based on information in the public domain.
The terms of Clause 3 (Privacy) state that "editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent" but notes that "account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information. While the complainant disputed the nature and purpose of the websites on which her modelling photographs had been published, it was not in dispute that she had consented to their publication. The Commission did not consider that publication of the complainant's name in the context, and indeed her age, represented a failure to respect her private life.
With regards to the publication of information about the general whereabouts of the complainant's home, the Commission emphasised that it does not generally consider that the general whereabouts of an individual's home to be a matter that inherently concerns their private life. Although the complainant was concerned that reporting where she lived would place her family in danger, there was no suggestion of any specific security threat or that any intrusion had occurred following publication.
Finally, the Commission emphasised that often newspapers will approach friends and neighbours of the subject of a story in the course of their journalistic enquiries. While the complainant objected to the reporter questioning her neighbours, it did not appear that the reporter had revealed to them any information regarding her private life, nor had the newspaper published intrusive information as a result of his enquiries.
The Commission did not uphold the complaint under Clause 3.
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