Daily Mail cleared over sperm donor doctor claims

A doctor who was investigated by the Daily Mail over allegedly offering to donate sperm by having unprotected sex with women has had his complaint to the PCC rejected.

He claimed the paper obtained material that intruded into his private life in breach of clauses one (accuracy), three (privacy), four (harassment) and 10 (clandestine devices and subterfuge) – even though the story was never published.

The commission rejected all four complaints made by the doctor, who was not named in today’s adjudication.

His complaints related to the ‘journalistic activity’of the paper in relation to a potential story alleging he was offering to donate sperm by having unprotected sex with women rather than using artificial insemination.

The doctor claimed a freelance journalist had contacted three women ‘connected to his activity as a sperm donor’whose details ‘could only have been obtained by gaining access to digitally-held information without his permission”.

He accepted the journalist was not directly responsible for accessing the material, but said the original source of the information – a donor recipient – told the journalist she had obtained the details from his personal computer.

He also alleged the journalist’s approaches to the women had been “highly intrusive” given the “sensitive issues involved”. In its defence the Mail said it did not employ the journalist and had not commissioned the article.

The first it became aware of the story was when the freelancer approached the newspaper on either 18 or 19 September after she had worked there for about a month.

According to today’s adjudication: ‘The newspaper then spent four days working on the story with the journalist – including offering the complainant the opportunity to respond to the allegations and putting the allegations to other women on the list provided by the source – before receiving a letter from the complainant’s lawyers outlining concerns over the manner in which information used by the journalist had been obtained.

‘The newspaper instructed the journalist to urgently contact her source, who confirmed that she had obtained the information from the complainant’s personal computer.

‘There had been no previous suggestion to the newspaper that the details of the women had been acquired using these means. The women were not contacted again after questions regarding the genesis of the information had been raised.

‘The newspaper’s reporter had sent one further email about the complainant to the owner of a sperm donation website after the receipt of the lawyer’s letter, but this did not relate to the information allegedly acquired from the personal computer.”

The Mail argued there was a strong public interest in the allegations, particularly claims that he had fathered large numbers of children.

A Daily Mail reporter contacted the doctor by telephone and email and later made an approach to him at his home, but the paper’s approaches stopped when the complainant said he ‘did not wish to engage on the matter”.

The newspaper has no ‘current intention to publish” an article on the doctor and said it would not make use of information allegedly acquired from the doctor’s computer.

It was not, however, willing to offer assurances that it would ‘not in any future articles identify him as a sperm donor or publish the identity of a donor recipient or child in a context that might lead to his identification”.

Rejecting the complaint, the PCC said the case was ‘an example of the difficulties that can arise in some circumstances in determining to what extent an individual publication is responsible for the actions of freelance contributors”.

It found the paper was not responsible for the freelancer’s behaviour before she approached the paper with the story, and said the Mail had not used the contact details obtained from the doctor’s computer after it was made aware of how they were obtained.

The PCC noted the paper had also taken care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information, and stopped contacting the complainant when he did not respond to enquiries.

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