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Complainant Name:
Messrs Tyndallwoods, on behalf Mr Mohamad Kenewa

Clauses Noted: 1, 3, 4, 6, 10, 12

Publication: Sunday Mercury

Complaint:

Messrs Tyndallwoods, solicitors, on behalf of their client Mr Mohamad Kenewa, complained that an article published in the Sunday Mercury of 12 March 2000 headlined ‘You’re a soft touch’ was inaccurate, intruded into his family’s privacy, that his family had been harassed, his children were approached without proper consent, that misrepresentation was used to obtain information and photographs and that the piece included irrelevant references to his religion in breach of Clauses 1 (Accuracy), 3 (Privacy), 4 (Harassment), 6 (Children), 11 (Misrepresentation) and 13 (Discrimination) of the Code of Practice.

Clauses 1, 3, 4 and 13

The complainant and his family are seeking asylum in the UK. The article and an accompanying editorial reported criticism of the level of benefits they receive from the UK Government. The article highlighted the fact that the complainant, who has two wives and fifteen children, has been given two homes.

The complainant’s solicitors said that the headline gave the misleading impression that the complainant had himself said the words ‘You’re a soft touch’. The article assumed wrongly that the complainant’s asylum application is not genuine. The complainant’s eldest son, who was quoted in the piece, is not fluent enough in English to have constructed the sentences attributed to him – his views were misrepresented. The journalist gained the family’s confidence by telling them he wished to write a positive piece about asylum seekers. The reporter and journalist abused the complainant’s hospitality. He and his eldest son asked them to leave and not to return, but they did not leave immediately and they returned later. The story could have been written without referring to the family’s nationality or identifying them as Muslim.

The newspaper said that, in the reporter’s view, the complainant’s son spoke reasonable English. His remarks were only altered grammatically. The headline did not suggest that ‘You’re a soft touch’ was a direct quote - it portrayed the sentiment of the piece as a whole and was a criticism of the Government. The whole question of asylum seekers is a matter of acute public interest. The article sought to address the issue through the individuals, rather than attack the individuals themselves. The newspaper’s editorial comment unequivocally pointed the finger of blame at the Government. The family invited the reporter and photographer into their home and spoke openly about their situation. No mention was made of the tone of the piece to be written. The reporter and photographer denied that they were asked to leave the house. Nationality is central to any story about asylum seekers and the complainant’s religion had to be mentioned to explain his polygamous marriage.Complaint

Clauses 6 and 11

The complainant said that the journalists were informed of the dangers of publishing a story and identifying the family in view of their vulnerable status. However, the whole family – including the children – were identified by name, nationality, photograph and address. Much of the information was obtained from the children without the consent of an adult. This put the family at risk of racist attack and at risk if they return home. The children were advised not to attend school to avoid a backlash as a result of the article. The photographs of Mr Kenewa and his family were taken in his home and without his consent or knowledge. The photographer knew they did not wish to be photographed.

The newspaper said that although the family did say they did not want any publicity, this was not the basis on which the interview began. The article did not include the names of the roads where the two houses are located. The children were central to the article. They gave the names of the other family members while two adults were in the room. The adults did not attempt to stop the reporter from speaking to the children. The newspaper accepted that photographs were taken without the family’s consent or knowledge, but believed this was justified in the public interest.

Decision:
Upheld

Adjudication:

The Commission noted that the article concerned a subject which had aroused a high degree of public debate and controversy. The newspaper was entitled to investigate these matters and to seek the comments of adults who are seeking asylum in this country. It appeared that the complainant and his family had at first been happy to speak to the reporter, knowing that he was a journalist and intended to write a piece about them. Although there may have been some difficulties in understanding, the solicitors did not specify any alleged inaccuracies in the quotations. It was clear from the piece that no decision had yet been made regarding their application for asylum. Their quoted comments made clear their reasons for leaving their home country and for coming to the UK. The Commission considered that the headline was clearly intended as an editorial comment and summary of the piece as a whole. It considered that the references to the complainant’s nationality and religion were relevant to the subject of the article – they were not prejudicial or pejorative. The complaints under Clauses 1, 3, 4, 11 and 13 of the Code of Practice were rejected.

The Commission was concerned that the newspaper had obtained information from some of the children about the names and ages of the other children in the family, and that this information had been published, including photographs which – the newspaper accepted – had been taken through subterfuge. The subject of the article was clearly very sensitive and likely to provoke a strong reaction in some people. In these circumstances, the newspaper should have taken greater care to protect the identities of the children. Furthermore, the Commission could not agree that the use of misrepresentation to obtain some of the photographs was justified. The complaints under Clauses 6 and 11 were upheld.

Report:
50



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