The Press Council decided that a story about an alleged assault partially violated its Standards of Practice.
THE Press Council considered a complaint about an article published in The Daily Telegraph on February 11, 2021 under the heading ‘HE’S JUST A GOOD GUY’ on the front page and continuing on pages 6 and 7 and online under the heading ‘The real estate agent Karl Howard took Viagra before the alleged sword attack” on February 11, 2021.
The front page reported that a ‘former girlfriend’ of the ‘estate agent’ accused of attacking a woman with a samurai sword at her home has expressed concern for him as he remains at home. hospital after his arrest, saying he’s a ‘good’ guy'”.
The written article goes on to say that the complainant is “an agent herself” who “told the Daily Telegraph: ‘We are very worried about him… he is scared. “We have known each other for a very long time”.
The front page included a prominent photo of the complainant alongside the headline ‘EXCLUSIVE Ex-partner of officer charged with samurai sword attack struggles to understand allegations’.
Page 7 featured a prominent photo of the complainant under the caption “We are very worried about him…he is scared”.
The online article reported: “A prominent real estate agent who police say choked a woman before turning a samurai sword on another had taken four Viagra pills and had ‘sexual intent’ before the bloody ordeal in the $2 million home he shared with his former partner, a court heard”.
The article, which also included a prominent photograph of the complainant, went on to include additional details about the officer’s alleged assault on two women.
The plaintiff, whom the article identified as the defendant’s “ex-partner”, said the journalist had “broken confidentiality” and acted in a completely unethical manner regarding the ‘story.
The complainant said the reporter phoned her several times before publication to request comment. The complainant also said she refused the journalist’s request to pose for a photo.
The complainant said the reporter’s mannerisms bordered on harassment and that she only agreed to provide a short comment on the condition that it be confidential and her name explicitly not included.
The complainant claims that the journalist accepted this condition and that a colleague witnessed this agreement. The complainant said that once she learned she had been identified in the online article and before the print article was published, she begged the reporter to anonymize her in the article.
The complainant said the publication proceeded to publish the print article which included her comments and prominent photographs. The complainant said the article had caused her tremendous stress and unwanted media attention and that since the article was published, she had received calls from strangers leaving messages threatening and harassing her.
The complainant stated that the reported assault allegations had nothing to do with her and that the inclusion of her photograph, name and business in the article harms her career, emotional state and his safety.
In response, the publication said that the reporter who spoke to the complainant strongly denies the allegation that an agreement has been reached regarding confidentiality and in no way accepts that any of the phone calls to the complainant came close to the harassment. The publication said the reporter kept a diary and contemporaneous notes of the calls, noting that some lasted several minutes, which it said demonstrates that the reporter and the complainant had a continuous dialogue and spoke in a completely friendly manner throughout the day. .
The publication stated that the complainant had not been harassed, but that the reporter had spoken to the complainant on numerous occasions to ensure that the quotes attributed to her were correct and that she understood that this was citations attributed to him.
The publication states that no agreement was reached not to have the complainant’s name appear in the article and no agreement was reached not to publish any photographs of the complainant.
He said that after the article was first published online, the complainant put the reporter on speakerphone during a call, and the complainant claimed she never spoke to the reporter or agreed to any quotes despite their ongoing dialogue.
The publication also said that she only posts photographs that are publicly available online through her public Facebook profile and from images on her real estate agency’s website.
The publication said it had edited some aspects of the online article to address some of the complainant’s concerns.
The relevant Council Standards of Practice require that publications take reasonable steps to avoid infringing on an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy, unless it is sufficiently in the public interest ( General Principle 5) and to avoid causing or contributing materially to distress or harm or substantial risk to health or safety, unless it is sufficiently in the public interest (General Principle 6).
They also require publications to avoid publishing material that has been gathered by deceptive or unfair means, unless it is sufficiently in the public interest (General Principle 7).
The Council notes that there are significant differences between the complainant’s views and the publication as to what was said regarding “confidentiality” and whether the complainant’s comments were “recorded”.
The Board also notes that due to the lack of information to conclusively determine what was said, the Board is unable to make any findings on this aspect of the complaint. However, it is undisputed that the journalist clearly identified herself as a reporter for the Daily Telegraph; said she was investigating the reported assault; and that conversations did take place between the complainant and the journalist.
The Council also notes that at the time of publication, the complainant’s personal information, including her occupation and place of work, was publicly available. While the Council does not accept that all information that is in the public domain necessarily diminishes an individual’s expectation of privacy, in this case it is satisfied that the publication has taken reasonable steps to avoid to infringe on the complainant’s expectation of privacy, noting that the personal information was publicly available and the existence of conversations between the complainant and the journalist.
Accordingly, the Board finds no violation of General Principle 5.
With respect to General Principle 6, counsel notes that the complainant was in no way connected to the alleged assault. Accordingly, the Council considers that the article was likely to cause and did cause significant distress to the complainant.
Although there was an undoubted public interest in reporting the assault allegations, there was no public interest in including large, prominent photographs of the complainant, particularly on the front page of the print edition. when the complainant had made it clear to the publication that she did not wish to be photographed for the story.
Accordingly, the Board finds a breach of General Principle 6.
As to General Principle 7, given that the complainant knew she was speaking to a journalist, the Council finds that the published material was not gathered by deceptive or unfair means.
Accordingly, the Board finds no violation of General Principle 7.
However, the Council reminds journalists that it is good practice to clearly identify when a conversation goes from “off the record” to “on the record”.
To read the full arbitration on the Board’s website, click here.