IMPRESS, the independent press regulator, has rejected a complaint from a child abuse survivor, who was named in a story on the Byline site and on my personal blog.
The ruling sets a precedent for the regulator. It ruled that survivors who rightly normally get anonymity, but then decide to go public in the mass media cannot subsequently decide to ban other individual journalists from referring to them if no new information is published.
The dispute arose after a blog published by me on Byline and here which was critical of the treatment of Esther Baker, herself a child sex abuse survivor, in a direction made by Alexis Jay, the chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.
As a side issue the blog pointed out that survivors who go public are rare and cited in passing another child sex survivor who “bravely” went public in the Scottish Sun about his experiences after an 82 year old paedophile priest was jailed.
The survivor subsequently complained to Impress. The grounds of his compliant were :
“The publisher failed to preserve the Complainant’s anonymity as a vulnerable
“Publishing of the Complainant’s name was an act of malice and intimidation
and unacceptable conduct by a journalist; and
“Publishing of intimidatory reference to the Complainant was done in an
The publication, the Complainant says, had impacted on their right to privacy and has caused significant distress.”
Byline and myself vigorously contested this.
The report says: “The publisher believes that victims of sexual offences and their privacy should be protected, but, does not believe that this means that such victims
can selectively waive their rights of anonymity with respect to specific
journalists or publishers.
“The Author argued that the Complainant had made public, multiple times,
that they are a survivor of sexual abuse. The Complainant had been named
in the UK national press, the Washington Post, TV, YouTube, social media
and on numerous national websites.
” The publisher argues that, in these circumstances, a requirement to request
specific permission from the Claimant to publish material in the public domain
would amount to a form of targeted prior restraint and censorship, in breach
of its Article 10 rights.
“The Author refuted that the naming of the Complainant was in any way
malicious or any part of a campaign of intimidation made against the
“The Author believes that ‘it would be egregious if it is held that no one could
link to the article [already in the public domain] and discuss it without their
permission’. Therefore, the Author disagrees with the Complainant’s point
that publication had caused enormous distress.”
Impress called in lawyers to advise them on the naming and dismissed all the complaints made by the child sex abuse survivor.
“The Committee considered that merely referring to the Complainant in this
article did not constitute an act of intimidation in the course of journalistic
activities, particularly so in light of the fact the Complainant had identified
themselves to the media as a victim of sex offending.”
It went on :”The fact the Author had been copied into various emails from a third party to the Complainant,was not in and of itself evidence of intimidation in the course of journalistic activities.”
“The Committee noted that the article only cited information that had been
reported in other publications. Therefore, there could be no reasonable
expectation of privacy on the part of the Complainant in the published
information. The Committee considered that it had been reasonable for the
publisher to believe that the citation of this information (given its recent
widespread dissemination at the date of publication) would not significantly
exacerbate the Complainant’s grief or distress. Furthermore, the Committee
considered that in this case there had not been ‘intrusive newsgathering or
Impress say no further action is necessary so the blog stays on both Byline and my own blog in its entirety. Full report is here.