Requests for journalists to stop contacting someone under harassment guidelines set out in the Editors’ Code of Practice “do not last indefinitely”, the Independent Press Standards Organisation has ruled.
The UK’s largest press regulator backed the actions of a Daily Record journalist who approached a man three years after he asked not to be contacted again in relation to any article.
Clause 3 (harassment) of the code says journalists must not persist in questioning, phoning, pursuing or photographing people after they have been asked to stop.
In this case the journalist approached fraud investigator Chris Newman, who had just finished refereeing a football match, as he walked across the pitch with players and his fellow match officials.
The reporter said he identified himself, after which Newman shouted: “Get this man away from me” and ran to the changing room. The journalist and photographer immediately left, he said.
The Record’s story told readers: “When the Record approached Chris Newman for comment after a match he was refereeing at Stirling University, he shouted repeatedly: ‘Get that man away from me’, and ran into the changing rooms.”
Newman told IPSO he had to be ushered away by the players because the journalist initially continued to follow him, but the reporter denied this.
The RBS bank employee said he had emailed the same journalist in 2017 asking not to be contacted or photographed again for any future article.
The Daily Record made the case to IPSO that this request was no longer applicable or valid because three years had passed since then and the latest approach was made over a new story in the public interest.
Newman told IPSO he had made no suggestion his position on being approached had changed in the ensuing years.
IPSO ruled there had been no breach of the code because “a request to desist does not last indefinitely”.
It said it was appropriate for the newspaper to offer a right to reply before the story was published.
“While the complainant had not changed his mind about wishing to comment on the story over the three years since he made the request to desist, the publication could not assume this,” IPSO said.
“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.”
It ruled that the reporter’s actions “did not represent a failure to respect a request to desist”.
On the accounts of the incident itself, IPSO said no matter whether the man was “ushered away” the reporter had not followed him into the building or stayed in the area after the encounter and so it was not classed as a “persistent pursuit” in breach of the code.
It was also not intimidation for the journalist to turn up at the man’s place of work unexpectedly because he identified himself and left when asked to do so.