A Man and the Sunday World*
The Press Ombudsman has decided not to uphold a complaint against the Sunday World.
The Sunday World published a report about a man who advertised a room in his apartment for rent at a reduced rate if the person taking the room was willing to engage in sexual activities. The advertisement was placed in an online advertising site. The newspaper sent a reporter to the apartment to meet the person who placed the advert. The subsequent article included details of the meeting and was accompanied by two photographs of the man who was clearly recognisable. The report did not include the man’s name or the address at which the man was offering the room.
The man wrote to the editor of the Sunday World claiming that he had never intended renting the room and had placed the advert to see if he’d get a reply. He denied mentioning anything sexual when he met the reporter sent by the newspaper in response to the advert. He said the publication of the article had caused him great distress. In an email to the Press Ombudsman’s Office the man said that the newspaper had not respected his right to privacy and the article had damaged his reputation. He described the activity of the Sunday World as “entrapment”. In subsequent correspondence he claimed that the article breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) and Principle 5 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.
In his response to the complaint the editor of the Sunday World wrote to the Press Ombudsman’s Office defending the article, claiming that it was accurate, that there was no entrapment as the complainant had “advertised on an open website” and that publication of the article was justified as the advert might have exploited young people “in a vulnerable position”.
As the complaint could not be conciliated it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.
I do not believe that the article breached Principle 1 of the Code of Practice. The complainant has not been able to produce any evidence that the article contained inaccuracies.
I also believe that Principle 5 of the Code of Practice has not been breached. Principle 5.1 states privacy must be respected. However Principle 5.2 states that the right to privacy should not prevent publication of matters of public record or in the public interest. In this instance the complainant advertised on a website that any member of the public could access. Therefore the advert was already in the public realm. It was, in addition, in the public interest to publish details of the offer as at a time of acute accommodation shortage the advert was potentially exploitative of vulnerable young people having difficulties in finding somewhere to live.
9 March 2016
*This decision was anonymised at the request of the complainant.