PCC rejects privacy breach claim over hookah pic

A breach of privacy claim against the Glasgow Evening Times over a picture of a man smoking a hookah in a cafe have been rejected the Press Complaints Commission.

The complainant appeared in two photos in an article about Glasgow City Council cracking down on shisha cafes flouting the smoking ban headlined ‘Sling your Hoohak!”

He claimed the Evening Times photographer assured him he would be ‘out of focus’and had understood from this that he would not be identifiable.

While the sharpest focus of the photos, taken at a local cafe, were on the pipe the PCC said the complainant’s features were “readily identifiable”.

The Newsquest-owned daily did not accept that the photos, which were published on 7 October 2011, breached Clause 3 of the Editors’ Code of Practice or that its photographer had misled the man.

According the complainant, who was not named by the PCC, he was told the pictures were for the purpose of ‘research’and not for publication in the newspaper

He claimed his identification in the photo ‘led members of the community to question his personality and integrity”.

In its defence the newspaper provided a statement from the photographer saying he had ‘clearly identified himself and his purpose to the group’and as a result some individuals moved out of the shot, while the complainant remained.

The photographer explained the main focus would be on the hookah pipe with the rest of his body out of focus and ‘at no point did the complainant object to his taking photographs”.

The paper was also able to provide a statement from the cafe owner confirming the photographer had asked his permission before taking ‘quite a few’pictures and had made clear the pictures might be published in the newspaper.

It later offered to remove the image from its website as a gesture of goodwill

‘Unusual and difficult issue’

In its adjudication the PCC found the man had a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’and described the complaint as an ‘unusual and difficult issue”.

‘When an individual has consented to be photographed in a private place on condition that he will not be identifiable, publication of a photograph in which he was identifiable would normally amount to an intrusion into his privacy,’it said.

But it concluded the photographer’s comments did not amount to an assurance the complainant would be unrecognisable in the published photographs.

The PCC said: ‘In coming to this conclusion the Commission took into account the fact that the complainant could have asked for a specific assurance that he would not be recognisable, but had not done so.

‘Nevertheless the Commission wished to make clear its strong view that it was regrettable that the photographer had used an expression that had given rise to this confusion.

‘The Commission took the opportunity to note that this incident illustrated the importance of full and open communication about the taking of photographs for publication, particularly in private places.

‘It hoped that in future this and other publications would take steps to ensure that any conditions or assurances are agreed clearly in advance.”

Regarding the ‘research’claim, the press watchdog said there was a ‘conflict of evidence’about this which it was unable to resolve, and so was unable to come to a conclusion.

The man also made a complaint under Clause 10 (obtaining material by misrepresentation or subterfuge).

The PCC said it was unable to establish whether the code had been breached ‘given that it appeared that the photographer had correctly identified himself, and that it was unable to resolve the conflict of evidence as to the purpose for which the photographs were to be taken”.

The complaint was not upheld.

Charlotte Dewar, the PCC’s head of complaints and pre-publication services, said: ‘This was an unusual and difficult case for the Commission.

‘Its ruling draws attention to the importance of ‘full and open communication’ about the taking of photographs, particularly if they show an individual in a private place”.

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