PCC Rejects Complaints over Evening Times Photographs, Urging 'Open Communication'

The Glasgow evening newspaper, the Evening Times, has had two complaints against it rejected by the Press Complaints Commission.

It follows the publication of photographs used to illustrate an article about a 'crackdown' by Glasgow City Council on shisha cafes allegedly flouting the ban on smoking indoors in a public place.

But one man contacted the PCC, complaining under two clauses in the PCC's Editors' Code of Practice. One complaint was under clause three (privacy) while the other was under clause ten (clandestine devices and subterfuge).

While neither complaint was upheld, the PCC's head of complaints and pre-publication services said it was a difficult case to adjudicate on, and underlined the importance of “full and open communication” when photographs are being taken.

Says the PCC: “[The complainant] said he had been assured by the photographer that he would be 'out of focus' and had understood from this that he would not be identifiable. The sharpest focus of the photographs, published along with the article under the headline, 'Sling your hookah!', had been on the pipe, but the complainant's features were readily identifiable. In his view, the photograph was intrusive. The newspaper did not accept a breach of Clause 3 of the Code, and denied that the photographer had misled the complainant. It provided information from the photographer regarding the conversation that had taken place about the taking of the photographs in the café.”

It added: “The Commission found that, in line with its existing case law, the complainant would generally have had a 'reasonable expectation of privacy' in the café. The key issue for the Commission was the nature of the consent he had provided for the taking of the photograph. The Commission noted its view that if 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'.

“In this case, however, the Commission could not establish that the photographer's comments amounted to such an assurance, and it therefore found no breach of the Code. However, it made clear its regret that the photographer had used a phrase which had confused the complainant, and stressed the need for newspapers and magazines to 'take steps to ensure that any conditions or assurances are clearly agreed in advance'.”

The PCC statement quotes Charlotte Dewar, head of complaints and pre-publication services, saying: “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.”

Read the full adjudication here