IPSO rejects Saudi princess's complaints about Sunday Telegraph story on her 'unruly' golden retriever

A complaint by a Saudi princess that The Sunday Telegraph breached three clauses of the Editors' Code of Practice with a story about her golden retriever dog has been rejected by the Independent Press Standards Organisation. (Stock picture: Shutterstock)

Princess Sara bint Talal bin Abdulaziz complained that the story, headlined "Fur flies over Saudi princess's unruly retriever" and published online on September and in the newspaper's print edition the following day, breached Clauses 1, covering accuracy, 3, on privacy, and 4, on harassment.

The article detailed a dispute between the Princess and a dog trainer over alleged non-payment of a fee for training for her pet golden retriever.

The Princess said she was not given an adequate opportunity to respond to the allegations before publication, with the result that the article contained a number of inaccuracies.

The dog was not aggressive and had never bitten anyone, she said. There had been an incident involving her dog in the past, to which police were called, but the dog was not taken into police custody, as the article said.

Further, the dog trainer had not been engaged as a "last hope".

The Princess also said the dog was four years old, rather than nine as reported, and the dog trainer was employed by a former employee of hers, rather than by herself.

She also said it was inaccurate to state that the trainer had "declined to comment" – she believed the trainer had contacted the newspaper about the matter.

The Princess also said the article intruded into her privacy, in revealing details about her home, including its cost and proximity to a London park, and that following its publication she had received threats to her safety from individuals associated with Islamic State.

The newspaper said it had received credible information that the dog had bitten a child on the nose. The newspaper had put a number of questions to the Princess, asking about the dog's behaviour, the dispute with the trainer, and her feelings on the matter, and gave her 48 hours in which to comment, then told her that it intended to publish the story.

The Princess had not answered the questions, and instead had only confirmed that she had a bill to pay the trainer and maintained that the dispute related only to the amount due. The claims in the article were therefore clearly presented as such, and not as established facts.

It added that the points about the age of the dog, and whether or not the trainer was engaged as a "last resort", were trivial matters.

IPSO's complaints committee said the story evidently originated with a confidential source, who gave the newspaper information about the dispute over the payment to the trainer, and made a number of extra claims about the Princess.

As was appropriate – in the absence of any specific corroborating evidence on these points – the newspaper put a number of questions to the Princess's representatives prior to publication, asking for her comment on the matters raised in the article, including the biting allegation.

The Committee took the view that the newspaper had given the Princess an adequate opportunity to respond to the claims.

In the absence of any specific further information from her, it was entitled to proceed with publication, so long as it took care to distinguish the claims from established fact, as it had done. There was no breach of Clause 1.

The Princess, said the committee, had accepted that her dog was involved in an "incident" in 2012, which had led to police involvement.

It was satisfied that on balance, where it was accepted that the dog had been involved in an "incident" of unspecified nature, the dispute over the precise nature of the dog's behaviour was not sufficient to establish a significant inaccuracy.

Further, the biting incident was distinguished as an allegation, to which the newspaper was entitled to refer. While the Princess disputed that any allegation was made, the newspaper was free to print information from other sources.

The Princess had not denied that she was in dispute with the trainer over non-payment of a bill. The article had not included details of who engaged the trainer, or the terms of her contract, but had reported that proceedings were on-going over payment. The article did not contain misleading information on this point.

The Princess's suggestion that the trainer was the likely source of the story, and that it was therefore inaccurate for the publication to state that she had refused to comment, was speculation. The newspaper was entitled to maintain the confidentiality of its source.

The discrepancy regarding the dog's age and the characterisation of the decision to hire the trainer as a "last resort" were not matters of significance such that a correction would be required under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).

On the complaint under Clause 3, the Committee noted that the article had not included the Princess's address, but rather gave information about its location and nature. It expressed some concern on this point, but concluded on balance that this did not include enough detail to constitute an intrusion into her private life.

On the harassment complaint, the Committee said Clause 4 generally related to the conduct of journalists during the news-gathering process. There was no suggestion from the Princess that, while gathering material for the article, representatives from the newspaper had engaged in conduct which would engage the terms of Clause 4.

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