The Sunday Times published a first-person article by journalist Lynn Barber about having hosted a Sudanese refugee in her home, describing and naming the man, his family life, and conversations she had with him. In addition, Barber claimed the refugee, Mohammed Ahmed, was receiving a living allowance from the UK government and wasn’t allowed to work, and presented him as untrustworthy.
The article, which included a photo of Ahmed, was headlined, “Lynn Barber: I took an asylum seeker into my home. It didn’t end well,” and was subheadlined, “Appalled by images of people risking their lives to get to Europe, our writer gave up her spare room to Mohammed, from Sudan. She soon learnt that no good deed goes unpunished.”
The article criticized Ahmed, described his health issues and use of the hospital, and claimed he wanted to buy “some dope.” Further, Barber said she found pornography on her computer that Ahmed left, and that based on photos, Ahmed’s trip through Europe to the UK “looked more like a holiday jaunt than a desperate flight to asylum.” Barber also noted that she had a friend show the initial draft of her article to Ahmed, and that it made him upset, so they had a fight and he left her home and stayed elsewhere. Nonetheless, Barber added to her article and published it.
Ahmed complained to the UK press regulator the Independent Press Standards Organisation over the article, arguing it was inaccurate, an invasion of privacy, harassment and discriminating. Noting he didn’t consent to the article, that he is a private figure, and the Times is a national newspaper, Ahmed said the article invaded his privacy. He listed errors, including Barber’s claim he received money from the government, that he had 17 siblings and that his father had four wives (he says he didn’t, he’s one of 15, and his father has three wives). He denied leaving pornography on Barber’s computer, but added that it wasn’t a big deal for someone to use recreational drugs and pornography, and that his use of the UK hospital was legal.
The Times defended its article, saying it was fact checked and an account of its “widely acclaimed journalist of great experience and integrity” and her “experiences and reasonably held opinions.” However, the Times noted it didn’t contact Ahmed for comment or fact checking because Barber didn’t have his contact information. This left iMediaEthics to wonder how the newspaper truly fact checked a story about Barber’s conversations and interactions with Ahmed, without talking to Ahmed. iMediaEthics has written to News UK, the Times‘ publisher, to ask.
In terms of an invasion of privacy, the Times said it was fair game to report and show a photograph of Ahmed because his first name was common and the photo was “innocuous.” Further, the Times even indicated that since Barber is a journalist, as a “non-paying guest” staying with her “voluntarily,” he couldn’t have had “a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to his behaviour, or conversations with the journalist, while staying at her home,” IPSO reported.
IPSO, however, disagreed with the Times‘ argument, ruling the Times‘ piece invaded Ahmed’s privacy by reporting on a private person in great detail without any justification, knowing Ahmed didn’t want to be written about. “Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence,” IPSO wrote. “This reflects the enhanced privacy rights that people have in their own homes. The Committee rejected the newspaper’s position that, as the complainant was not paying rent, these rights were forfeited. It also did not accept that, as his host was a journalist, the complainant should have presumed that any information he shared with her might be published without his consent.”
IPSO also slammed the Times for not trying to contact Ahmed to fact check the numerous claims about him, suggesting Barber could have contacted Ahmed’s friends she had previously interacted with. IPSO called for the Times to publish a clarification on its article, reflecting Ahmed’s response to the factual claims about him. IPSO did reject Ahmed’s complaints about harassment and discrimination, however.
In addition to publishing a clarification about the factual discrepancies, the Times also must publish, in print and online, the IPSO ruling against it. IPSO noted that the Times attempted to appeal the ruling, but the appeals board, the Independent Complaints Reviewer, “decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.”