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IPSO upholds complaint against The Belfast Telegraph relating to article on stalking laws

Following publication of an article of headlined, “I felt sorry for my ex when we split. Now I live in constant fear and carry alarms because he stalked me in revenge”, published online on 21 June 2016, a man complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Belfast Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The complaint was upheld and lPSO required The Belfast Telegraph to publish this adjudication.

The article reported on claims made by a named woman in an interview she had given to the newspaper; it said that after ”years of being harassed by an obsessed former boyfriend”, she was now campaigning for the law to be changed to protect victims. It said that in March 2016, she had secured a full order against her former partner.

The complainant said that the claims made by his former partner were inaccurate: he had not stalked, harassed, or threatened to shoot her. He also said that she had not obtained a court order against him: he had signed an undertaking which was not an acceptance of guilt of the allegations which she had made against him.

The newspaper said that the article was based on the testimony of a woman who had a right to tell her story, which was on a subject which was a matter of public interest. It said that the woman’s campaign for legislative changes in Northern Ireland had gained significant support from members of the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly.

Nothing in the Committee’s decision should be taken as a finding about the truth of the claims made by the parties. The primary question for the Committee was whether the newspaper had taken care to publish an accurate account of the claims which had been made by the woman at interview, and had done so in a way that was not misleading.

The complainant had not been given the opportunity to deny the allegations which had been made against him, or have this recorded in the article. The newspaper had made no attempt to contact him for comment, nor had it sought to obtain corroborating evidence to support the woman’s serious claims. The failure to put the allegations to the complainant, and the resulting omission of his denial in the article and the overall manner in which the claims were presented, created the significantly misleading impression that his former partner’s claims were undisputed fact.

The article had reported that the complainant’s former partner had ”secured a full order against him” in March 2016. While it was accurate to describe the document as an order, reporting that it had been obtained against the complainant, rather than that the undertakings had been provided by him voluntarily to the court, created the impression that there had been a finding by the court about the complainant’s conduct. The full position had not been made clear in the article by, for example, including an explanation of the basis upon which the order had been made. The article’s presentation of this document in a way which suggested a judicial finding had been made, particularly where its terms had been explained to the newspaper at interview, and was available to them upon request, represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article. The complaint was therefore upheld as a breach of Clause 1.

The Committee expressed significant concern that the newspaper had not responded to the complainant during the referral period and had not provided sufficient justification for its failure to do so. The Committee also noted that there had been several delays, on the part of the newspaper, to provide a response to the complaint during lPSO’s investigation. Given the newspaper’s failure to correspond directly with the complainant and the delays to the process, the newspaper’s conduct during lPSO’s investigation was unacceptable. lPSO will consider separately what further action is appropriate to address what appear to be serious concerns.

To read the full adjudication, go to: https://www.ipso.co.uk/rulings-and-resolution-statements

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