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Complainant Name:
Messrs Theodore Goddard on behalf of Mr Steve Bing

Clauses Noted: 3

Publication: Daily Mirror

Complaint:

Theodore Goddard, solicitors of London EC1, complained on behalf of Mr Steve Bing that an article published in The Mirror on 6 December 2001 included private material in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice.

The complaint was not upheld.

The article followed the public disagreement between the actress Elizabeth Hurley and her former lover Steve Bing over the paternity of her child. Miss Hurley alleged that Mr Bing was the father while he suggested that he might not be. The newspaper took the strong editorial view that his conduct was cruel and criticised him for Ďturning his backí on Miss Hurley. It said that if its readers thought he was Ďa bigger cad than James Hewittí then they should telephone his office to let him know what they thought. It published the main switchboard number of his Los Angeles film company.

The solicitors argued that publication of the complainantís work telephone number was an intrusion into his privacy and had resulted in numerous crank and threatening phone calls being made. They contended that the notion of a private life does not exclude activities of a professional or business nature and stated that few Mirror readers would have been aware of the complainantís connection with the company and been prepared to find out his office number. They said that the complainant was not a public figure and that the only reason for publishing the number was to encourage readers to invade his privacy.

The editor argued that the paper could not have intruded into the complainantís privacy simply by publishing his office telephone number and encouraging people to call it. He added that the number was in the public domain and enclosed copies of pages from relevant telephone directories, and said that the complainantís connection with the company was well established in the public domain.

Decision:
Not Upheld

Adjudication:

The Commission regretted any distress that had been caused to the complainant but its task was to apply the terms of the Code. It noted that the complainantís solicitors had asked it to consider a relatively narrow point regarding whether the publication of the complainantís publicly accessible office telephone number - and the encouraging of the newspaperís readers to telephone it - was an intrusion into the complainantís personal privacy. In concluding that no breach of the Code had occurred on this point the Commission wished to make a number of points.

First, there was no doubt that the material that the newspaper had published was in the public domain. The Code of Practice specifically requires that the Commission has regard to the extent to which material is available to the public and it could not therefore ignore the fact that the number had been published in relevant telephone directories and was therefore widely available to the public.

Second, while there may be circumstances in which the publication of a telephone number might be considered to be a breach of the Code, the Commission noted that in this case the telephone number was for the general switchboard at the complainantís company and not for his personal office, mobile or home telephone. Indeed, there was no evidence that Mr Bing had spoken to any of the callers himself. The Commission appreciated that the receptionists might have felt annoyed or even possibly intimidated by the calls but this was not a matter that was relevant to Mr Bingís own privacy. In fact, the behaviour of individual Mirror readers is not in any case a matter that falls for consideration under the Code. The Commission had to consider the nature of the material that was published and it could not conclude that there was anything inherently personal or private about it. Consequently, no breach of the Code had occurred.

Third, the Commission understood that some people may have been wary about the decision to encourage people to telephone the number but in circumstances where there has been no breach of the Code this was a matter for editorial discretion. In a free press, where there are no matters that breach the Code, it is not for the Commission to interfere with such decisions.

Fourth, it also followed that where there was no intrusion into privacy the newspaper did not have to justify itself in terms of the public interest. For the same reason it was not relevant whether or not the complainant could be classified as a Ďpublic figureí, but the Commission nonetheless noted that he had been involved in a high-profile relationship with a famous actress and had subsesquently publicly argued with her about the paternity of her child. In the Commissionís view, scrutiny by the press in these circumstances was inevitable.

For all these reasons the Commission did not uphold the complaint.

Report:
58 Decision issued 23/05/02



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