AddThis SmartLayers

Sunday newspaper rapped over story about vicar’s sexuality

IPSO_logo_newThe press regulator has rapped a regional Sunday newspaper over a story in which a vicar denied false rumours that he was gay and had received a police caution.

Rev Peter Thompson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Belfast’s Sunday Life had breached Clause 3 (Privacy) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in the articles which reported he was “baffled” by the “false rumours”.

The complainant said that the publication of these rumours, which he confirmed to Sunday Life were untrue and unsubstantiated, was a breach of his privacy.

He had been contacted for comment prior to publication, and had himself contacted the Church of Ireland Press Office to confirm the identity of the journalist before returning her call.

Rev Thompson was concerned that the newspaper had sought to use his categorical denial of the allegations in that conversation as justification for circulating them further, adding it was also unnecessary to mention that he had children in the piece.

Sunday Life said it had become aware of the rumours after being contacted by an unknown source and then followed up on the rumours with a person who was familiar with them.

The newspaper said that the article was in the public interest because the complainant was a prominent local figure and the allegation that he had a police caution was of a very serious nature.

With regard to the rumours about the complainant’s sexuality, the newspaper said that the complainant had willingly responded to the journalist’s questions, following consultation with the Church of Ireland Press Office, and at no point said that his comments were not for publication.

It admitted the article clearly concerned Rev Thompson’s private life, and that it would not be its usual practice to contact individuals regarding claims about their sexual orientation, but the complainant was a prominent member of his local community and it appeared at the time that he was the victim of a campaign.

Sunday Life added it had only mentioned Rev Thompson was a “father of three”, not the names or ages of his children.

The article was removed from its website as a gesture of goodwill.

IPSO ruled: “The complainant had not publicly disclosed the details of the rumours, which were of a personal nature, and the newspaper had become aware of them only after being contacted by an unknown source.

“The inclusion in the article of his denial was insufficient to justify the intrusion into the complainant’s private life caused by publication of the claims, regardless of their inaccuracy.

“Further, the complainant’s rebuttal of the allegations in conversation with the journalist did not constitute consent for publication under Clause 3 (ii). The newspaper breached Clause 3 of the Code.”

No breach was under Clause 6 was found, but Sunday Life was ordered to publish its adjudication on page seven, or further forward, as well as its website.

The ful adjudication can be read here.


You can follow all replies to this entry through the comments feed.
  • June 29, 2015 at 4:31 pm

    Aside from this case, rumours ain’t facts, simple. I am amazed at how many rumours and utter speculation are run on tv and radio without being substantiated first, even on tragic stories.
    Get the story first, even if it is wrong. That’s 21st century journalism I guess. Or just a rumour?

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(4)
  • June 30, 2015 at 1:17 pm

    All the ingredients of a typical Sunday paper story – minus any hard facts.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(5)