Does a request to desist from making contact last indefinitely?
It is not very often that our articles cover points of regulation rather than law, but an interesting ruling from IPSO has encouraged us to break from the norm…
Last month IPSO’s complaints committee adjudicated on a complaint against the Daily Record. The complainant was approached by a Daily Record reporter for comment on a story involving his brother as he finished refereeing a football match.
The main complaint was that the approach constituted harassment, in breach of Code 3 of the Editors’ Code of Conduct, because he has asked the Daily Record not to contact or photograph him in relation to any article by email in 2017.
The complainant also alleged that the reporter’s approach was aggressive and constituted intimidation, and that the reporter followed him despite being told to “get away”.
He alleged that the approach was therefore a persistent pursuit in breach of Clause 3, as well as constituting intimidation, also in breach of Clause 3.
The Daily Record denied that there had been a breach of Clause 3, stating that the reporter and photographer left promptly as soon as the complainant said “get this man away from me”.
The Record also disputed that the “request to desist made in 2017 was still applicable or valid, as it was made three years ago and this approach was made in relation to a new story, which concerned him allegedly allowing his brother to purchase tickets for resale using cards in his name.”
Further, the publisher argued that there was a public interest in making the approach as the story concerned serious allegations, to which the complainant should be given the opportunity to respond.
The Committee found in favour of the Daily Record.
In finding that there had been no breach of the Editors’ Code, the Committee noted that while the complainant had stated he did not want to be contacted about any article three years ago, a request to desist does not last indefinitely.
Further, while the complainant had not changed his mind about wanting to be contacted, the publisher could not assume this to be the case.
The Committee added: “A newspaper has to balance a previous request to desist with the need to allow a fair opportunity to reply to new allegations or a significantly new slant on a story.
“In this instance, it was reasonable for the newspaper to have considered that, given the passage of time, circumstances had changed and the complainant’s position as set out in the notice could have changed.”
This is a helpful finding for publishers, meaning that when a considerable amount of time has passed they are able to contact the subjects of stories for comment (even if they have previously been asked to desist), without falling foul of Clause 3.
Obviously, this case had its own set of facts, but the ruling makes it clear that a request to desist from making contact does not last indefinitely, which is clearly helpful to publishers who want to act responsibly when publishing changed or new allegations.