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Press regulator rejects complaint against Nation.Cymru from sacked former chief executive of S4C

13 Jun 2024 12 minute read
S4C Chief Executive Sian Doyle. (C) Huw John; S4C headquarters in Carmarthen. Photo via Google

The Press regulator IPSO has rejected a complaint from Sian Doyle, the sacked former chief executive of S4C, that NationCymru intruded on her privacy by reporting that she had been signed off from work with stress.

Ms Doyle was sacked for gross misconduct in November 2023 after a report from Cardiff law firm Capital Law detailed multiple instances of bullying at the broadcaster when she was in charge.

The adjudication states:

Siân Doyle complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Nation.Cymru breached Clause 2 of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “S4C chief executive signed off with stress following sacking of her ally”, published on 14 October 2023.

The article – which appeared online only – reported that the complainant had “been signed off work with stress a day after her close ally, chief content officer […], was dismissed for gross misconduct. It went on to report that the complainant “was at work on Friday morning in S4C’s section of BBC Wales’ office in Central Square, London”, and that she “told [S4C’s Chair] at around lunchtime on Friday that she was seeing her doctor and later provided a sick note saying she had been signed off with stress”.

The complainant, who at the time of the article’s publication was S4C’s Chief Executive Officer, said the article breached Clause 2 as, without her consent, it disclosed the specific reasons she had been signed off work. She considered this to be private medical information. She said that the contents of the article – the circumstances of her colleague’s dismissal and bullying allegations made by members of staff at S4C – did not justify the disclosure of her private medical information. The complainant said that only her absence from work had been shared internally with S4C staff on the 14th of October 2023, and that the specific reason for her absence was not shared at this time as it was considered to be confidential medical information.

The complainant said this confidential information appeared within a matter of hours in the article, without warning, and both she and S4C were unaware that this would be published.

Public crisis

The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 2. It said the complainant was a public figure who was at the centre of a public crisis – an investigation into allegations of bullying and a toxic culture – which affected a “publicly funded and totemic organisation”, S4C, where she worked as the Chief Executive Officer.

It said it also believed that S4C employees and the wider public in Wales had a legitimate right to know why the complainant was no longer at work. The publication added that a story published on another news provider’s website on 13 October 2023 indicated that S4C staff were informed by their management that the complainant was on sick leave and that her duties were being shared between two more junior executives.

The publication also stated that members of the complainant’s family had made public comments about her health as part of her public campaign against the Chair of S4C.

In support of its position, the publication referred to the report issued on 6 December 2023 titled “A Report into the working environment and atmosphere at S4C”. It said that this report was commissioned following a letter of complaint from a union, and examined the working environment at S4C amidst allegations of bullying. It said that the complainant was named in the report, and that her role in the events which led to the dismissal of the former Chief Content Officer were a matter of public interest.

Obligations

The publication said it was aware of its obligation under the Editors’ Code to respect individuals’ right to privacy, and that any intrusion required a public interest justification. However, the publication did not consider these circumstances were similar to “sensationalist stories that gratuitously intruded on the private lives of celebrities”, as this story formed part of a series of stories reporting on the allegations of bullying at S4C that was playing out publicly.

It said it had previously reported that the complainant had been present at the time the former Chief Content Officer had displayed the behaviour which led to her dismissal, and that the complainant had not intervened to stop such behaviour nor disciplined her for it.

The publication said there was significant concern amongst staff at S4C and the viewers of the channel about what was going to happen next. It said that this showed that there was a public interest in its reporting, given the complainant’s involvement in the circumstances that led to the dismissal of the former Chief Content Officer.

The publication then set out why it considered reporting why the complainant was signed off served a public interest that was proportionate to any possible breach of the Code. It said that, given the complainant was the executive head of the broadcaster and her absence could not go unnoticed, she could have no reasonable expectation of privacy. The publication added that, by reporting the medical reason the complainant had been absent from work, it would put an end to ill-informed speculation, about what had happened to her, for the S4C staff members and for the channel viewers.

It also said that, prior to publication, the reporter who published the story had a “detailed conversation” with the Associate Editor who was leading the coverage of the situation at S4C, and that both were aware that any intrusion into the private life of the complainant required a public interest justification. It said that, for the reasons set out above, it considered there was such a justification.

The complainant said that, after the publication of the article under complaint, she had discussed her medical information publicly and put out a mutually agreed statement with S4C. She said that there was no suggestion from S4C that it was necessary or in the public interest to divulge anything other than that she had been signed off from work. The complainant added that the publication was the first to publish the information – on 14 October, and that the subsequent articles it referenced during the investigation into the complaint were published after this date. She did not, therefore, accept that she had placed information about why she had been signed-off work in the public domain, as she had only done so subsequently because the publication had disclosed the information without her consent.

Relevant Clause Provisions

Clause 2 (Privacy)*

  1. i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental health,

and correspondence, including digital communications.

  1. ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual’s private life without consent. In

considering an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the

complainant’s own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained

about is already in the public domain or will become so.

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where

there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Public Interest

There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public

interest.

  1. The public interest includes, but is not confined to:
  • Detecting or exposing crime, or the threat of crime, or serious impropriety.
  • Protecting public health or safety.
  • Protecting the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.
  • Disclosing a person or organisation’s failure or likely failure to comply with any obligation to which they are subject.
  • Disclosing a miscarriage of justice.
  • Raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public.
  • Disclosing concealment, or likely concealment, of any of the above.
  1. There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.
  2. The regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will become so.
  1. Editors invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they reasonably believed publication – or journalistic activity taken with a view to publication – would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest and explain how they reached that decision at the time.
  1. An exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16.

Findings of the Committee

The Committee first considered whether the information under complaint – that the complainant had “provided a sick note saying she had been signed off with stress “– was information in respect of which she had a reasonable expectation of privacy. The Committee recognised that “stress” is a term with a range of meanings. In this context, however, it was presented as medical information which had been included in a document provided by the complainant’s doctor – albeit in broad terms.

Under the terms of Clause 2, a complainant’s own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so are relevant to any reasonable expectation of privacy. In this case the Committee noted that the fact that the complainant was unwell and not at work had been disclosed internally to S4C staff prior to the article’s publication, but the specific reasons why she had been signed-off work had not been shared publicly.

The complainant had later disclosed the specific illness: however, this happened after the article under complaint had been published and there was no indication, at the time of the article’s publication, that this information would enter the public domain. Therefore, where the specific reason why the complainant had been signed off work was not in the public domain and had not been disclosed publicly by the complainant prior to publication of the article, the Committee considered that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy over this information.

The publication appeared to accept that the reason the complainant had been signed off work was private medical information but argued that publishing the information was justified in the public interest.

Public interest justification

In order to invoke a public interest justification, a publication needs to demonstrate that it reasonably believed that publication of the information would serve the public interest in a proportionate way. The Committee therefore considered whether this test had been met.

When considering the public interest served by the publication of this information, the Committee was mindful of the complainant’s position as former Chief Executive Officer of S4C, a publicly funded organisation which is both a major employer in Wales and which plays a prominent role in Welsh-language society.

At the time of the article’s publication, the organisation had been the subject of widespread reporting regarding its leadership and organisational culture, including allegations of bullying, some of which related to the complainant.

There was, therefore, a clear public interest in the story as a whole. The question for the Committee was whether there was a public interest in publishing the specific reason for the complainant’s absence from work.

The publication had said that there was a public interest in disclosing the reason why the complainant was signed off from work, given the previously noted context and the fact that it believed S4C staff, and the wider Welsh public, had the right to know developments in an ongoing story concerning allegations of bullying at a publicly-funded organisation. In addition, it had argued that this would help prevent any speculation – such as that she may have also been dismissed – about the complainant’s absence.

It said that this had been discussed prior to publication in a detailed conversation, involving at least one senior staff member, and with reference to the public interest.

The publication had demonstrated that prior to publication it had considered the public interest in reporting the reason why the complainant had been signed off work. The Committee considered that the amount of detail which had been published was proportionate, where the medical information had been described only in broad terms and where it was directly relevant to the reason for the complainant’s absence from a high-profile role within the organisation.

The Committee acknowledged the complainant’s distress at the publication of the information. However, it considered that there was a considerable public interest in its publication.

Significant concerns about the culture of the organisation and the impact this had on staff had been expressed publicly. The fact that the complainant herself was suffering from stress to the extent that she was unable to continue to work contributed to that story in circumstances where she was a senior member of the organisation.

Taking into account the limited nature of the disclosure; the disclosures previously made within S4C that the complainant had been signed off work; the public interest in the broader story concerning events at the organisation; and the relevance of the disclosure to illustrate the difficulties being faced by the organisation, a publicly funded body, the Committee concluded that publication was in the public interest, and there was no breach of Clause 2.

Conclusion(s)

The complaint was not upheld.


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Andrew Thomas
Andrew Thomas
1 month ago

Keep publishing the facts and you will ok Nation.Cymru

hdavies15
hdavies15
1 month ago

Next part of this story will be how much over the odds will S4C have paid to be rid of Ms Doyle.

Pro bono publico
Pro bono publico
1 month ago

Thrse boys and girls from the Bay love their well remunerated media luvies lives so long as they can stay well away from real folk. In their job swapping little world they can be seen only at receptions, gala nights, awards ceremonies and of course Hay….the Royal Welsh, Llangollen & the Royal National Eisteddfod .

Unacountable, often related and awaiting their gongs and board places – they back stab each other but always operste off peiste .

Thank heavans for Nation Cymru walking in the tradtion of “ Rebbeca “ and Irelands Pheonix.

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