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Complainant Name:
Councillor Jim Moher

Clauses Noted: 1, 2, 4

Publication: Brent & Kilburn Times


Councillor Jim Moher complained to the Press Complaints Commission that the Brent & Kilburn Times had harassed him in breach of Clause 4 (Harassment).

The complaint was upheld.

The complainant raised concerns that he had been harassed by the newspaper's news editor. On 1 December 2013, the complainant had emailed the news editor, who was responsible for editing the newspaper's letters page, expressing his disappointment that she had not published several letters he had written to the newspaper about a controversy over speed humps. He was then made aware by another councillor of comments that the news editor had made on Facebook that day about an individual she identified as a "failed wannabe MP", including: "I plan to make his life a misery as much as possible" and "Lord God forgive me if I bump into him before I get back to work, you will be visiting me in Holloway". The first posting had been "liked" by 54 people and had attracted 43 comments. The complainant was concerned by the content of the posts, which he described as "sheer venom" and "shocking". While unnamed, he was the only local councillor who had been an unsuccessful Parliamentary candidate.

The newspaper denied breaching the Code. While conceding that the news editor's behaviour was regrettable, it did not accept that it constituted intimidation or harassment; the comments had been made on her personal Facebook account, which had privacy settings in place and could only be seen by "friends". The news editor's mother had recently passed away and she had been on compassionate leave when she received the complainant's email, which read in part: "here you are again this week giving extensive coverage to the most scurrilous and unfounded attacks". The email had concluded, "PS by the way, it was me who sorted your permit problem", a reference to assistance he had apparently provided to the news editor in acquiring parking permits for grieving relatives. She had found this email upsetting, and had expressed her feelings on Facebook. The newspaper confirmed that she had approximately 1000 Facebook "friends", although she had used settings to restrict the visibility of the post to around 250 "friends".



The Commission's remit does not extend to editorial content published on social media sites. Nonetheless, the terms of Clause 4 apply to all professional conduct by journalists, including on social media sites. The complainant's concerns about the postings on Facebook related directly to the news editor's contact with the complainant in her professional role, and had been viewed by individuals she had come into contact with as part of that role, a number of whom were personally acquainted with the complainant. The complaint could therefore be framed as a complaint under Clause 4 of the Code, which states that "journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit".

The comments had contained abusive language, personal insults and an implied threat of violence - albeit not one which the Commission considered was intended to be taken seriously. Further, they appeared to suggest that the news editor intended to use her professional role to make his "life a misery". The newspaper had not denied that the complainant was readily identifiable as the subject of the remarks, which had been published to a wide audience. While the Commission acknowledged that the comments had been published at a difficult time for the news editor personally, it had no hesitation in finding that this constituted intimidation within the meaning of Clause 4, and a serious failure to uphold the highest professional standards required by the preamble to the Code.


Cllr Moher also complained that the newspaper had published inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy), and failed to provide him an opportunity to reply in breach of Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) of the Code. Cllr Moher further complained that the repeated publication of letters from his political opponents, and refusal to publish his replies, amounted to harassment, in breach of Clause 4 (Harassment) of the Code.

The complaint was not upheld.

The complainant said the newspaper had published a number of letters by a fellow councillor and political opponent of his, on the subject of speed humps and the complainant's conduct as a councillor. He said that these contained inaccuracies, and he was particularly concerned that the newspaper had misled its readers by publishing a letter from this councillor, dated 28 November, in which she had expressed a view that the speed humps should be removed, without explaining that she had campaigned for their introduction. He said he had submitted letters for publication in response, but had been denied an opportunity to reply. The complainant said that these editorial decisions were made in order to further the news editor's threat to make his life "a misery", and were a part of a general campaign of harassment against him.

With respect to the complaints under Clause 1 and Clause 2, the newspaper said that it aimed to give fair coverage to the views of politicians on its letters page and had previously published numerous letters from the complainant. These had been selected for publication by the news editor, who would continue to publish his correspondence where appropriate. The newspaper argued that this demonstrated that editorial decisions regarding the letters page had not formed part of any campaign of harassment.


Newspapers have editorial freedom to publish what they consider to be of interest to their readers, and a local newspaper's letters page traditionally provides a valuable forum for debate, including by elected representatives.

The Commission was satisfied that readers would understand the nature of letters written by politicians and that their views may change over time. The 28 November letter set out the complainant's opponent's views on speed humps as they stood at that time; the newspaper had been entitled to publish this, and it had not been obliged in doing so to note any change in her views over time. Its publication of the letter did not constitute a failure to take care over accuracy in breach of Clause 1. Further, no specific inaccuracies had been established such that a reply was necessary under the terms of Clause 2.

With regard to the remaining complaint under Clause 4, the Commission noted that, at the time of his initial complaint to the newspaper, the news editor had been on compassionate leave. The newspaper had demonstrated that it had previously published a considerable number of letters from the complainant, selected for publication by the news editor, and said it would continue to do so. There was no evidence to suggest that subsequent editorial decisions had been taken improperly.

The Commission observed, however, that the newspaper had been placed in a difficult position with regard to any future interactions with the complainant. The newspaper should take particular care to ensure that there could be no suggestion that it was failing to maintain the highest professional standards in this regard, as required by the preamble to the Code.

Date Published:

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