The public have a right to complain where thy feel that the press has intruded into their privacy. The cases are heard and decisions are passed. In this paper I will discuss three cases where the complainants felt that their privacy had been intruded by the media. The court had to judge on the issues of right to privacy and freedom of the media to express itself.
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Ms Susan Thomson Case
There are sensitive news item that involve the photographs of dead people. Recently, the photograph of the dead former president of Libya, Moammar Gaddafi was published in the newspaper and shown in the television media. There are those who have questioned if it is in good taste or even politically correct to publish the photographs of dead people in the media.
The case for Gaddafi has not raised much concern due to nature of his dictatorial rule and the effect it had on the people in his country. The question however is a legitimate question. In a recent media case, the court upheld the complaint of Ms Susan Thomson against the Daily Record on the insensitive nature of the publication of her dead nephew’s photographs.
Ms Susan Thomson complained to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) that an article in the Daily Record was an invasion of privacy. Her nephew’s body had been found on a footpath close to the Author’s Seat. The newspaper showed a photograph of the body wrapped in a sheet that showed the outline of the deceased’s arms and body since he had been loosely covered. Ms Susan felt that the press had no right to expose the nephew like that especially since he is not a celebrity (Greenslade, 2011)
The complainant felt that it was the duty of the newspaper to exercise certain levels of restraint. She further stated that the nature of the explicitness in the photograph had shocked all the people who had ever been in contact with him.
The media apologised for the publication and even went ahead to remove the photograph from the online publication of the newspaper. However, the media stated that it was their duty to inform the public of tragic events that occur in the society especially death. It did not feel it had broken any Code.
It admitted that when reporting such tragic events, it is always hard to strike a balance between reporting the news and maintaining privacy for the afflicted family members. The body had been covered and exposed to the public the way it was therefore it was just a matter of editorial judgement for the media company to decide to publish the photograph or not.
It was a matter that had been seriously or highly considered before publication. It had not been taken lightly at all. However, the media communicated that in its line of work such photographs of the deceased were not uncommon. It had been an unfortunate occurrence.
The complainant however did not agree to their apology. On the media’s reasons for publication, she communicated that she had no problem whatsoever with the media publishing the story. It was good and important that the public be informed. However, what she had a problem with was the explicit and graphic nature of her nephew’s photograph. The body had been put 300ft up on a cliff therefore the public could not really view the body fully (Bould, 2011)
The police therefore did not see the need to erect a privacy screen. When the case went to court the decision was upheld. The court gave its reasons for upholding Ms Susan complaints.
In the court’s comments, it accepted that the newspapers indeed had a right to publish tragic events which would undoubtedly upset the afflicted person’s family. The photographs that would be used by a media company to accompany the story usually were a matter of editorial judgement.
The editor would consider the full story and the details that are revealed in the photographs. The court had no issue with the newspaper reporting that a body had been found in a public location that was very well known. However, the court felt that the newspaper was not justified in the publication of the explicit photograph.
The outline of the body was visible to the readers of the newspaper and the family was obviously distressed by the media’s action. The Clause 5 of the Editor’s Code demanded that the media should handle the photographs in a sensitive manner. The court deemed that the media had broken the code and did not handle the explicit photograph sensitively. While the court acknowledged the media’s effort of apologising to the complainant the complaint was upheld.
Mark and Jo-Anne Pitt Case
In another case published on the press commission complaints website, there arose again the issue of privacy invasion by the media. In 31st March 2011, Mark and Jo-Anne Pitt placed a complaint with the PCC over an article published in the Cambrian News. The media had published an article on the council changes on the taxi services offered to disabled students.
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The parents felt that the newspaper had breached the Media’s Code 3 and 6 on privacy and children respectively. The council had made a decision that the taxi services would no longer be tendered. The parents were angry and criticized the decision.
They agreed for the newspaper to publish a photograph of their son however the media was not to expose the name of the child and the condition that he had. In fact the parents had not provided to the media any details on the condition the child was suffering from.
Neither had they consented to the publication of these sensitive details. However, the media did not act according to the agreement. Instead the newspaper had published the photograph and his full details.
In its defence, the media company said that the driver of the taxi company. The media had understood that the parents had agreed for the full details to be revealed in the media. In fact the photographer stated that one of the parents had been present when the photograph was taken. This had been taken as confirmation that the parents consented to the newspaper’s publication.
Despite this, the newspaper acknowledged its error and agreed that it should have sought consent on the publication of the child’s details from the parents themselves. It therefore apologised to the parents. Furthermore, the newspaper had marked the details of the child and it would ensure that the information would be classified and never used in any other publication. It even stated that it would write personally to the parents to apologise for what had occurred.
The parents accepted the complaints but on certain conditions. First of all, it wanted
the media company to apologise publicly for what they had done. The apology was to be made without the company stated that its actions were as a result of misunderstanding. This was an excuse which the parents were not willing to accept. Secondly, the parents wanted the media company to assure them and the public that in the future it would always obtain the parental consent before publishing any child’s details (Press Complaints Commission, 2011).
The court in its remarks noted that the publication of an individual’s medical details without their consent clearly raised significant issues. It is an invasion of privacy. In Clause 3 of the Editor’s Code, is stated that the editors will be expected to justify their decision when they breach the code. The media like everyone else or any other organization is expected to respect an individual’s health. Under Clause 6, the media are also expected to respect the children.
The clause specifically states that children should be allowed to pursue their education without unnecessary intrusion. The justification of the media company was not upheld. The court stated that the child’s details had been obtained from a third party and the company should have ensured that the parental consent had been obtained. In fact the media did not independently take any action or steps to ensure that the information it had been obtained had parental consent. The media company was therefore at fault.
Mr and Mrs Graeme Hart Case
In New Zealand, Mr and Mrs Graeme Hart lodged a complaint with the New Zealand press in 2008 concerning the invasion of privacy by the Herald newspaper. They felt that the article in the newspaper detailing the renovation in their home and
particularly the photographs were intrusive. Previously the couple had made an application at the Auckland City Council to obtain consent to make renovations in their home. The newspaper obtained the makeover plans from the council and tried to contact Mr. Hart on the floor plans.
However, he declined to communicate with them. A business associate told the newspaper it would not be appropriate to publish the plans as it would raise security issues. The newspaper however told him that the renovations could be reported without the floor plans being revealed. Further attempts to speak to Mr. Hart on the security issues proved to be unfruitful. The story was published on 26th February showing the interior details of the home.
The couple’s lawyer contacted the editor of the newspaper complaining that the details in the photographs were an invasion of privacy. The photographs exposed places in the house such as the reading room and the grandchildren’s reading room where one would not be able to see unless the individual was personally invited into the house by the couple.
The couple claimed that there was really no public interest in the planned renovations of the house. They also felt that the photographs had been obtained through deception or duplicity. When the editor’s response was insufficient, the couple took their complaint to the press council. They communicated that the media had breached Code 3, 6 and 9 that covered privacy, children and subterfuge respectively (Press Complaints Commission, 2011).
The media justified its actions by saying that since Mr. Hart was the wealthiest man in New Zealand, his home had a high value and the public were highly interested in any developments that touched on his home. The photographs had been obtained
from its sister company publication archives and not through deception. Furthermore the photographs did not zoom in to show particular details of the house. The house plans had not been revealed. The editor also revealed that attempts by the newspaper to contact Mr. Hart had been unsuccessful.
The court did not uphold the complaint. It stated that the interior of the house could not be seen as only arrows and textboxes had been used. There was no subterfuge exercised at all. The photographs were public information that could be obtained by anyone. Furthermore they had not been taken exclusively for the article rather they had been obtained from archives.
The newspaper did not reveal the number of grandchildren, their names or how often they visited the couple. There were people visible on the house compound however their personal features were so minute that it was really impossible to identify anyone. The fact that the media did not publish the floor plans shows that it respected the couple’s concerns.
The court decided that as much as there was a right to privacy there was also the right of the public to be informed and also the right for the media to communicate and express itself. The privacy of the couple had not been invaded and therefore the freedom of expression for the media could not be restricted (New Zealand Press Council, 2008)
The press councils play an important role in ensuring that the media do not in any way infringe on people’s privacy. It also ensures that the public do not restrict the media’s right to freedom of expression. The court provides an environment where the people get to plead their cases and be heard.
Bould, Sarah. Daily breached code with dead body photo. 24th October, 2011. Web.
Greenslade Roy. Why Daily Record was censured by PCC for using picture of a dead man. 25th October, 2011. Web.
New Zealand Press Council. Case Number: 2048 GRAEME HART AGAINST HERALD ON SUNDAY. September, 2008. Web.
Press Complaints Commission. Ms Susan Thomson v Daily Record. 24th October, 2011. Web.
Press Complaints Commission. Mark and Joanne Pitt. 21st July, 2011. Web.