PCC ruling on inadvertent exposure of diner

The Press Complaints Commission has criticised a local newspaper for publishing a photograph of a cafe in which the complainant and his companion were clearly identifiable.

Although the photograph was simply intended to illustrate the general atmosphere of the cafe, with any identification of individual diners being merely incidental, the commission held that this was a breach of Clause 4 of its Code of Practice. This prohibits publication of unauthorised photographs taken in a private place ("public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy").

The complainant argued that the photograph was published in the Dorking Advertiser without any concern for his or his companion’s privacy. In particular, the reporter had not made any investigation into the identities of the two diners or the circumstances of their meeting.

In its defence, the Dorking Advertiser contended that a cafe was a public place where the complainant had no reasonable expectation of privacy. The photographs simply added colour to the review of the cafe and were not intended to intrude into the privacy of the diners themselves.

The commission ruled that although the use of such photographs might appear trivial, an important matter of principle was at stake. Although the cafe was open to the public, diners were entitled to sit inside without having to worry about being photographed by the press.

The significance of the decision is that it indicates that there may be places such as hotels and restaurants which, although open to members of the public, are places where individuals may still have a reasonable expectation of privacy. While such individuals may have good reasons for preserving their privacy, this clearly presents practical difficulties for the press.

Newspapers should ensure that they obtain the subject’s express consent to publication, ideally before taking the photograph.

 

David Reed is a solicitor in the media team of Lovells

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