The below is republished from the corrections section of The Times online as this website has a paywall installed, meaning only those that subscribe or register to the site can access it.
Following an article published in The Sunday Times on 28 May 2017 headlined “I’m not altruistic, I’m pretty selfish, but I had to do something, so I took in a refugee…”, Mohammed Ahmed complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sunday Times had breached Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The complaint was upheld and IPSO has required The Sunday Times to publish this adjudication.
The article, which included the complainant’s first name and unpixelated photograph, was the journalist’s first-person account of her experience hosting the complainant, at the time an asylum seeker, in her home. The article included various details about the complainant’s background and personal life, and reported the journalist’s recollection of various conversations that she had with the complainant. It also included the text of a letter of apology that the complainant had written to the journalist after they had argued.
The journalist recalled that, while living with her, the complainant had suffered from an illness and the article included details of the illness. She also said that the complainant had left pornographic images on her computer, and she described the content of these images.
The complainant was concerned that his life and experiences had been the focus of a story in a national newspaper, which he considered to be an intrusion into his privacy. He was not a public figure, and had not expected to be the subject of an article. He had not consented to its publication.
The newspaper said that the article was a first-hand piece on a challenging topic written by a widely acclaimed journalist of great experience and integrity. In sharing her story, the journalist was exercising her right to freedom of expression. She was entitled to report her experiences and opinions, and was contributing to a topic of general discussion and debate.
The newspaper did not accept that the article had intruded into the complainant’s privacy. It said that the complainant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to his behaviour, or conversations with the journalist, while staying at her home. It noted that he was a non-paying guest in the house, and that he had shared most of the information in the article with his host voluntarily, in the knowledge that she was a journalist working for a major newspaper.
IPSO’s Complaints Committee emphasised that first-person journalism has a long history as a means to exercise the right to freedom of expression. Clause 2 of the Code makes clear that everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence. This reflects the enhanced privacy rights that people have in their own homes. The Committee rejected the newspaper’s position that, as the complainant was not paying rent, these rights were forfeited. It also did not accept that, as his host was a journalist, the complainant should have presumed that any information he shared with her might be published without his consent.
The article included extensive information about the complainant, relating to: his family and personal relationships; his domestic arrangements; his financial circumstances; his journey to the UK; his asylum application; his relationships and interactions with the journalist, including an argument they had had, and a letter he had written to her, expressing his feelings about the disagreement; his psychological and physical health; his drug use; and allegations about the possession of private, sexual material. These details were used to create a detailed and intimate portrait of the complainant, and his life.
The complainant was not a public figure, and had not publicly disclosed the information about his experiences contained in the article, or consented to the article’s publication. The extent of this detail, published without his consent, and where no steps were taken to obscure his identity, represented an intrusion into his private life. While the journalist was entitled to publish her story, and the Committee recognised that the matters discussed in the article were of significant public interest, this was not sufficient to justify the extent of the information about the complainant, and the resulting intrusion into his private life; the journalist’s right to freedom of expression did not outweigh the complainant’s right to privacy in this instance. There was a breach of Clause 2.
Don’t like what you’re seeing in the press? If you see an article you’re unhappy with, you can email the press regulators at email@example.com to voice your concerns. If enough complaints are received, they will have to look into it.
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