Ross Hussey story sparks flood of complaints to press watchdog

West Tyrone Ulster Unionist MLA Ross Hussey has received huge public and cross-party support over recent days
West Tyrone Ulster Unionist MLA Ross Hussey has received huge public and cross-party support over recent days

There have been 200 formal complaints about a Belfast-based tabloid newspaper’s decision to expose details of the private life of an unmarried MLA.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) – which regulates the bulk of UK newspapers, including the News Letter – said that most of the complaints had been under clauses two and three of the Editors’ Code of Practice, which relate to privacy and harassment.

Central to both is the question of whether the article was in the public interest.

Amid an exceptional public and political backlash over the paper’s actions, some of those most outraged at the coverage have been using the Sunday Life’s own Facebook page to urge people to complain to IPSO. It is thought that 200 complaints is a record for a Northern Ireland publication.

And, proportionate to their circulation areas, the 200 complaints against the Sunday Life are more than the 1,700 complaints (itself a record number) against the Sun over last week’s controversial column by Kelvin MacKenzie in which he questioned Channel 4 News’s decision to allow a Muslim reporter wearing a headscarf to present the news of the Nice terror attack.

A similar story about Mr Hussey appeared in another tabloid newspaper, the Sunday World. However, although the story was presented in a lurid manner, its editor, Richard Sullivan, insisted that it was markedly different to that in the Sunday Life as it had not involved the publication of private photos or a sting operation and had instead been based around Mr Hussey’s admission of what had happened and apology for his actions.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show on Monday – where no representative of the Sunday Life would appear to defend its coverage – Mr Sullivan said that he would “absolutely stand over” what appeared in his newspaper and insisted that it had been in the public interest.

Complaints about the Sunday World cannot be made to IPSO as it does not allow itself to be regulated by the voluntary press watchdog.

In a statement to the programme, the Sunday Life defended its journalism, saying: “We believe our story was clearly in the public interest as it highlighted a security risk.”

In Sunday’s article, the paper argued that because Mr Hussey was meeting “strangers” online and then arranging to meet them in person that he was endangering himself.