Did the Sun harass a sexual assault victim?
That’s what the Warwickshire Police alleged in a complaint to the UK press regulator the Independent Press Standards Organisation. IPSO agreed.
For three days in a row, despite being told the victim didn’t want to talk, a Sun reporter contacted a victim of sexual assault during a trial that found the defendants guilty, the police said.
- Call 1: The Sun‘s reporter called the victim’s partner, who then gave the phone to the victim. The victim told the paper ,“I have had enough to do with this now and don’t want anything else to do with it. I am not interested in giving a story,” to which the reporter said he would call back the next day and the victim told him not to. (The Sun denied that the victim said this.)
- Call 2: The reporter called the victim again, and the victim again declined to talk to the press.
- Call 3: The Sun reporter called again and asked the victim’s partner to convince the victim to talking to the Sun. The reporter was asked to stop calling the victim. The victim said this was the day after the last call, but the Sun said it was “several days later” and that the victim didn’t ask him to stop calling.
The victim was upset not only because the newspaper’s reporter kept calling but because the victim’s privacy as a sex crime victim was supposed to be protected, IPSO explained.
The Sun denied harassing the victim, claiming victims sometimes wanted to talk to the press and it was in the public interest. Further, the Sun claimed the victim didn’t seem “intimidated or harassed” or have “any signs of distress” in its reporters’s point of view when he called. Finally, the Sun denied trying to talk the victim into giving an interview, claiming as evidence the length of the phone calls being too short to have done so.
IPSO noted that sexual assault victims typically remain anonymous but journalists can sometimes find out their identities through court cases. That said, if a journalist contacts a sexual assault victim, “such contacts must be made with appropriate regard for the extreme sensitivity of the circumstances,” IPSO explained.
“Given that this was a story about the complainant that was extremely personal and sensitive in nature, to call a third time, when the complainant had twice made clear that they did not wish to speak, and where the reporter had no reason to believe that circumstances had changed, was unreasonably persistent and unjustified,” IPSO ruled. “This represented harassment” without any public interest.
The Sun has to publish the ruling against it on page 2 of the print newspaper and in the top half of the Sun‘s homepage online for 24 hours.
A spokesperson for the Sun confirmed to iMediaEthics that the paper never ran a story on the matter; iMediaEthics has written to the police to ask if it and the victim are satisfied with the ruling.