Clauses Noted: 1
Jason Mack complained to the Press Complaints Commission through his father, Brian Mack, that an article headlined "Feuds reignited! Cheryl stirs up bitter past with drug addict ex" / "Forget Ashley! 10 years on, Cheryl slams drug addict ex", published in Heat magazine in an issue dated 7-13 July 2012, was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice.
The complaint was not upheld.
The article reported that Cheryl Cole had "revealed" that her song "Craziest Things" was about her teenage relationship with the complainant, drawing on a recent interview she had given to another magazine. It suggested that she had also written about the relationship in the 2009 autobiography of Girls Aloud and quoted an excerpt, which said in part: "There's only so much crying you can do and only so many slaps around the face you can take, so many mood swings..."
The complainant was concerned that the article had suggested that he had been violent towards Ms Cole, which he strongly denied. He further complained that although he denied having used drugs since 2003, the article had described him as Ms Cole's "drug addict ex".
The magazine explained that in the previous magazine interview Ms Cole had discussed what she called the "worst relationship of her life". It had reproduced her comments from that interview, in which she had also described the relationship as "aggressive and wrong", together with her earlier comments in the autobiography. While Ms Cole had not identified the complainant by name, the magazine contended that it was clear that on both occasions she had been talking about their relationship. It noted that Ms Cole's recent autobiography (which had been published after the article) included references to the complainant "fighting with me and screaming", and alleged that he had bitten her on one occasion.
The magazine noted that the complainant had also commented on the relationship to a newspaper in 2003 and in a 2009 biography of Ms Cole, including the effect that his former addiction to cocaine and heroin had had on their relationship. It said that it had attempted to speak with the complainant prior to publication, visiting his home address. The complainant's mother, speaking on his behalf, had made clear that he would not be commenting on the relationship and wished to be left alone. While the magazine did not accept that it had breached the Code, it offered to publish a statement setting out the complainant's denial that he had been violent toward Ms Cole, as well as his position that he had not used drugs since 2003.
The complainant did not accept the offered wording; he required a full apology and an assurance that the magazine would not feature him in further stories.
The terms of Clause 1 (i) of the Code state that the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information. In this instance, the material under complaint consisted of comments made by Ms Cole on previous occasions, which had been reproduced accurately and attributed to the magazine's various sources.
The excerpt from the autobiography that contained the disputed reference to "slaps" had not referred to the complainant by name. Without the involvement of Ms Cole, the Commission was not in a position to establish conclusively that it had referred to the complainant. Notwithstanding this point, the magazine had argued strongly that it had been reasonable to infer that the passage did refer to the complainant, and the complainant did not appear to dispute this. The Commission therefore proceeded on this basis. Nonetheless, it wished to make clear its more general concerns about the potential difficulties of collating and reproducing material from secondhand sources.
In this instance, it appeared that the juxtaposition of comments taken from various sources had given rise to a new potential meaning to the quoted material - a claim of violence made by Ms Cole against the complainant - that might not have been understood from it originally. The Commission noted that the surrounding text of the article had not included such an allegation; it had suggested more generally that the relationship had been troubled, which was accepted. In all the circumstances - which included the evidence the magazine had provided of the complainant's and Ms Cole's previous comments about the relationship; the manner in which the material had been presented; and the magazine's attempt to contact the complainant prior to publication - the Commission concluded that the magazine had not failed to take care over the accuracy of the article. It therefore did not establish a breach of Clause 1. Nonetheless, in view of the inferences that could be drawn from the article, the Commission considered that it was appropriate for the magazine to have offered to carry the complainant's denial.
The complainant was also concerned that the reference to him as "Cheryl's drug addict ex" suggested that he continued to use drugs. While it understood his position that he had not used drugs for nearly a decade, the Commission noted that the article had recounted events that had occurred during his relationship with Ms Cole, at a time when it was accepted that he had used illegal drugs. The Commission welcomed the magazine's offer to clarify the complainant's position, but it did not establish a breach of Clause 1 on this point.
The complainant also complained that the article had been intrusive in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) and that a photographer employed by the magazine had pursued him in a manner that breached Clause 4 (Harassment) of the Code.
The complaint was not upheld.
The complainant was concerned that - despite it having previously been made clear to the magazine's reporter that he had no comment and wanted to be left alone - a photographer commissioned by the magazine had photographed him as he waited for a bus, and had then followed the bus for some period until the complainant got off.
The magazine did not accept that it had harassed the complainant. It provided a witness statement from the photographer, who confirmed that he had taken the images from his car. He strongly denied that he had approached the complainant or followed the bus after the complainant and his mother had boarded. The magazine did not accept that the photography had been intrusive; it said the complainant had been photographed on the street, a public place in which he had no reasonable expectation of privacy.
Under Clause 4 (Harassment), journalists must not engage in "intimidation, harassment, or persistent pursuit" and must not "persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist".
The Commission was unable to reconcile the conflict of accounts between the two parties as to whether the photographer had pursued the bus after the complainant had boarded it. While it was accepted that - when approached for comment by the magazine's reporter - the complainant's mother had said that the complainant wished to be "left alone", there was no suggestion that a specific request had been communicated in relation to the taking of photographs, nor that such a request had been made at the time the images were subsequently captured. With this in mind, and where the complainant had not alleged that the photographer acted in an aggressive or intimidating manner, the Commission could not establish a breach of Clause 4.
Clause 3 (Privacy) sets out that "everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life" and that "it is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent". Private places are defined as "public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy". The Commission recognised that, despite having previously spoken publicly about his relationship, the complainant had not wished to be the subject of further media coverage, and objected strongly to the magazine's decision to publish additional stories about him, including his photograph.Nonetheless, the press are entitled to publish information which they consider to be of interest to readers, provided they do not otherwise breach the terms of the Editors' Code. It was not in dispute that the photographer and the complainant had been in a public place at the time the images were taken, and they did not show the complainant engaged in any private activity. There was no breach of Clause 3.
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