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Daily breached man’s privacy by covering conversion to Islam, IPSO rules

A regional daily breached a man’s privacy after running a story about his conversion to Islam, the press watchdog has ruled.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation has found against the Lancashire Telegraph after it covered the religious declaration by the man.

The Blackburn-based Telegraph had run what it believed was a positive story after being it was supplied by another member of the mosque.

But IPSO backed the new convert after he claimed a photograph and recording of the ceremony had been taken without his knowledge and consent.

Blackburn's Masjid Al-Hidayah, where the event took place

Blackburn’s Masjid Al-Hidayah, where the event took place

Complaining under Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, the man, named only as “Muhammad” in IPSO’s ruling on the matter, said that mobile phone devices were banned from the mosque, with signs at the entrance announcing this.

He considered that the inclusion of his first name, the area where he lived, and the photograph, identified him to his family and friends – who were not aware of his conversion to Islam – as well as people living in the local area, which had caused him considerable distress and disrupted his private and family life.

The Telegraph said in response that the story was based on information provided by an upstanding member of the local community, who regularly provided the newspaper with community-based content, and was published in good faith.

Taken in this context, it noted that an individual affirming their new faith was a cause of celebration and news to share with the wider community, pointing to an example where another mosque had shared, via social media, an individual partaking in a similar ceremony.

The Telegraph accepted Muhammad had a reasonable expectation of privacy over the information included within the story, but did not accept he was identified because he was only referenced by his first name and the photograph did not show his likeness.

The newspaper also said that the information contained within the story was already in the public domain prior to publication as the source had recorded the ceremony and shared it on WhatsApp to potentially ‘hundreds’ of contacts.

The Telegraph did not accept that the mosque “banned” the use of mobile phone devices, or that there was a sign at the entrance indicating this.

Upon receipt of the complaint, it amended the online version of the story and removed the photograph, Muhammad’s first name and any reference to where he was from.

Muhammad rejected an offer to delete the online story, saying he did not consider this sufficient.

IPSO acknowledged that the Telegraph’s apparent intention was to report on a positive community event using information provided by an established member of the local community.

It concluded however that publishing private information, alongside a photograph of Muhammad engaged in a religious ceremony inside a place of worship, constituted a significant and unjustified intrusion into his private life.

The complaint was upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.