The Press Council considered a complaint by Rami Yousif about a front page article published in The Sunday Telegraph on 22 November 2015, headed "REVEALED SECRET POLICE FILES” and “BANNED: The 198 louts barred from every soccer game ground in the country”. The article continued on page four, headed “FACES FROM THE SOCCER SHAME FILE”. The article also appeared online under a different headline.
The article stated that the Football Federation of Australia (FFA) had banned 198 people, including the complainant, from attending “every soccer ground in Australia”. The complainant’s photograph (among others) appeared on the front page with a caption “10 years”, and again on page five with his name and the words “Wanderers supporter. Ban10 years. Spectator violence in a group.”
The article said the FFA’s dossier amounted to the “shame file Australian football bosses did not want you to see”, suggesting the FFA had not sufficiently accepted the extent of its crowd violence problem.
The complainant said he witnessed an assault after a match in early 2015 and “willingly gave a witness statement to the police in order to assist them with their investigation”. He was never charged or convicted of any offence in relation to the incident. The complainant said the article incorrectly implied he had been involved in wrongdoing, was a “lout” and was implicated in an “act of violence”. He said he asked the publication to provide evidence that he was involved in spectator violence, which it had not done. The complainant acknowledged that the publication offered him a right of reply and has continued to do so, but said he had “lost confidence” in the publication and feared he would be treated unfairly.
The complainant also said the publication used two images of him from his Facebook account, which he said was an “unreasonable intrusion on [his] private life”, which caused him great anxiety, depression and panic attacks. He said the FFA banned list was confidential and only meant to be distributed to police, security consultants and football clubs, and that it was “not in the public interest to… shame him”.
The publication replied that the complainant had been banned for 10 years, one of the longest bans imposed, reflecting the FFA’s view of the seriousness of his conduct. The publication said it was entitled to rely on the FFA’s statement that banning was the result of being identified by “the various state police forces” as having engaged “in serious anti-social behaviour”.
The publication said that after the article appeared, the FFA reviewed its processes and established an appeal system, and if the complainant appealed successfully, it would report this prominently. The publication said it had offered the complainant a right of reply, which he had not taken up, and it had repeated its offer.
The publication denied it had taken the photographs from Facebook, stating that they were part of the FFA’s dossier. It said the banned list was circulated widely and could not be regarded as confidential. The publication said it was strongly in the public interest for police, club officials, stadium security and the general public to know the identity of banned individuals, in order to protect public safety and highlight the extent of the problem.
The Council’s Standards of Practice require publications to take reasonable steps to ensure factual material is accurate and not misleading (General Principle 1) and reasonably fair and balanced (General Principle 3), to publish a correction or take other adequate remedial action if material is significantly inaccurate or misleading (General Principle 2) and provide a fair opportunity for subsequent publication of a reply if necessary (General Principle 4). The General Principles also require reasonable steps to avoid intruding on a person’s reasonable expectations of privacy or contributing materially to substantial offence, distress or prejudice – unless doing so is sufficiently in the public interest (General Principles 5 and 6).
The Council notes that the complainant strongly denies any involvement in “spectator violence in a group” and points to the fact that he was never charged as strong evidence for his position. The Council is not in a position to form an independent conclusion about whether the complainant was involved in anti-social conduct. The question is whether the publication took reasonable steps to determine the accuracy and fairness of the information in the article. In the absence of any significant doubts about the veracity of the FFA dossier, the publication was entitled to report its findings, and accordingly the Council concludes it took reasonable steps.
Given the 10 year ban imposed on the complainant, a penalty normally reserved for serious anti-social behavior, the same logic can be applied to the publication’s use of the terms “louts” and “shame file”. Accordingly, the Council does not uphold the complaint in relation to General Principles 1 and 3. In light of these conclusions and the publication’s offer of a right of reply, the Council also considers there was no breach of General Principles 2 and 4.
The Council accepts that the publication obtained the photographs of the complainant from the FFA’s dossier. The Council considers that the complainant’s expectation of privacy was outweighed by the significant public interest in the disclosure of the banned list, given the concerns about public safety and the need to document the extent of the problem. Accordingly, the Council concludes there was no breach of General Principle 5.
While the publicity may have caused the complainant considerable distress, the Council considers there was a significant public interest in disclosure of the banned list, and accordingly does not uphold the complaint in relation to General Principle 6.
Relevant Council Standards (not required for publication):
This adjudication applies the following General Principles of the Council.
“Publications must take reasonable steps to:
1: Ensure that factual material in news reports and elsewhere is accurate and not misleading, and is distinguishable from other material such as opinion.
2. Provide a correction or other adequate remedial action if published material is significantly inaccurate or misleading.
3. Ensure that factual material is presented with reasonable fairness and balance, and that writers’ expressions of opinion are not based on significantly inaccurate factual material or omission of key facts.
4. Ensure that where material refers adversely to a person, a fair opportunity is given for subsequent publication of a reply if that is reasonably necessary to address a possible breach of General Principle 3.
5. Avoid intruding on a person’s reasonable expectations of privacy, unless doing so is sufficiently in the public interest.
6. Avoid causing or contributing materially to substantial offence, distress or prejudice, or a substantial risk to health or safety, unless doing so is sufficiently in the public interest.”