Clauses Noted: 1, 3
Publication: Farnham Herald
A man complained to the Press Complaints Commission that an article headlined "Assaulted after night out", published in the Farnham Herald on 15 June 2012, was inaccurate and intruded into his private life in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors' Code of Practice.
The complaint was not upheld.
The article reported that the complainant and two other individuals had been assaulted following a night out. It was accompanied by a photograph of the complainant's injured face. The complainant said police had assured him that he would not be identified as the victim of the assault, and that they had not released his identity; however, the newspaper had identified him and published a photograph that showed his heavily bandaged face, taken from his Facebook page, without his consent. He was concerned for his safety.
The report included claims that the complainant "almost had his nose ‘bitten off'" and suggested that prior to the assault the complainant's group "became embroiled in a fight with two other men". The complainant acknowledged that he had received a cut on his nose from a bite but said the claim it had been nearly "bitten off" was an exaggeration. He denied that there had been any "fight"; the attack had been unprovoked. The complainant was concerned that the newspaper had based the story on comments published on Facebook and had taken no steps to verify the information with him.
The newspaper said one of its reporters, who had a mutual acquaintance with the complainant, had seen a comment - posted by this shared Facebook friend - identifying the complainant as the victim of the attack. The reporter had then accessed the complainant's Facebook page, which had no privacy settings, where the complainant had posted the photograph and had identified himself as the victim of an attack. The reporter had made inquiries with the police. Police had not confirmed the complainant's identity but had confirmed the incident and provided information about the injuries suffered by the victims, including the complainant, although a comment on the Facebook posting was the source of its claim that the complainant's nose had been nearly "bitten off". Police were also the source of the disputed reference to a "fight". The reporter had sent a message to the complainant, via Facebook, asking for his comments, but had received no reply. It had removed the article from its website after learning of the complainant's concerns, but denied any breach of the Code.
The complainant said that he had wrongly believed that privacy settings were in place on his Facebook profile. He had never received the message from the reporter.
Under the terms of Clause 3 (Privacy), everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, and editors must justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent; account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information.
The material under complaint had been published by the complainant on his Facebook page in the mistaken belief that it was protected with privacy settings. The Commission acknowledged the complainant's concern that the information had been published more widely than he had intended, particularly in light of the assurances he had received from police. Nonetheless, it had to have regard for the fact that he had - albeit unwittingly - alerted the newspaper to the attack by posting information about it along with a photograph of his injuries. In the view of the Commission, such an incident was a matter of legitimate local concern. The article was a straightforward report of a newsworthy incident, which had been substantially corroborated by information provided by police. No gratuitous information about the complainant's private life had been included, and the photograph had been used to illustrate the extent of the injuries he had suffered; it had not been taken out of context. The Commission welcomed the newspaper's removal of the article from its website in light of the complainant's distress, but it found no breach of Clause 3.
The complainant's remaining concerns related to accuracy. Clause 1 (Accuracy) sets out that the press must take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information, and must correct a significant inaccuracy or misleading statement promptly and with due prominence.
The newspaper had accepted that the allegation that the complainant's nose had nearly been bitten off had come from a comment on Facebook made by one of the complainant's friends. It had, however, obtained confirmation from police that his injuries had included "a severe bite wound to the nose" and had evidently taken steps to contact the complainant for his comment. While the Commission expressed significant concern about the unattributed use of the claim from Facebook, on balance it did not establish a breach of Clause 1 on this point.
The complainant was also concerned about the reference to his group being "embroiled in a fight" with his attackers. The newspaper said that this information had come from police. The Commission acknowledged the complainant's position that the phrase was potentially misleading, but it considered this issue in the full context: the article referred to the incident as a "vicious assault"; detailed the complainant and another man's injuries; and reported that two men had been arrested. It concluded that readers would not have been significantly misled on this point. There was no breach of Clause 1.
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