Mercury rapped by PCC

By Jon Slattery

A privacy complaint against the Sunday Mercury in Birmingham has been upheld by the Press Complaints Commission after the paper published a picture of someone it described as "the greediest man in Britain" without his permission.

The Sunday Mercury ran a story about Christopher Bourne from West Bromwich in which it claimed he had bought 30 Microsoft Xbox 360 games consoles to sell them for profit on eBay in the run up to Christmas.

Bourne complained to the PCC that the article headlined "Dad cashes in on Xbox misery", published in the Mercury on 4 December last year, was inaccurate and misleading in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) and contained a photograph of him which was published without consent, in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice.

The PCC ruled that the privacy clause had been breached.

Although Bourne spoke to the paper, he refused its request to pose for a picture. He said a picture of him that appeared in the paper was taken surreptitiously.

The Mercury said that the purpose of the report was to expose the complainant as a greedy opportunist intent on making a substantial profit by exploiting the pre-Christmas retail shortage of Xboxes. He had explained to a reporter that he expected to make a profit of about £5,000.

The Mercury claimed there was a real public interest in reporting the complainant’s behaviour and in publishing his picture. As the complainant had invited its photographer into his house in order for his young son to be photographed, the newspaper did not consider that he could complain if, in the event, the photograph used was of him and not his son.

The PCC ruled: "The article’s description of the complainant as ‘the greediest man in Britain’ was clearly the newspaper’s forceful opinion about the complainant, something it was entitled to express."

But it added: "There was no evidence that the complainant had, for example, committed any crime or serious impropriety, or sought to mislead any of his potential customers.

The public interest argument for ignoring the complainant’s express wishes regarding the photograph was therefore limited — and certainly not sufficient to justify the intrusion into the complainant’s privacy. The complaint under Clause 3 was therefore upheld."

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