PCC rules on privacy complaint about local newspaper story that used information from Facebook
The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has ruled that the Farnham Herald did not breach Clauses 1 (Accuracy) and 3 (Privacy) of the Editors' Code of Practice after it published a story about a man who had been assaulted after a night out, which was illustrated with a photo of the complainant's injured face taken from his Facebook page.
The complainant was concerned that despite an assurance from the police that he would not be identified as a victim of the assault, the newspaper had identified him. He denied a number of claims made in the article, including that he had been "embroiled" in a fight and that he had "almost had his nose bitten off". He said that the newspaper had based the story on comments posted on Facebook; it had not sought to verify the information with him.
The newspaper explained that the the complainant had identified himself as the victim of an attack and uploaded the photograph himself on his Facebook page, which was not protected by privacy settings. The reporter had made inquiries with the police who had confirmed the incident and provided further information. It provided an image of a Facebook message its reporter had sent to the complainant requesting comments. It had removed the article from its website when it learned of the complainant's concerns, but did not accept it had breached the Editors' Code. The complainant denied receiving any message from the reporter and said he had wrongly believed that privacy settings were in place on his Facebook account.
While the Commission acknowledged the complainant's concerns that the information had been published more widely than he had originally intended, it noted that he had "unwittingly" confirmed his involvement in the incident and the extent of the injuries he suffered to the newspaper. It considered that the report was a straightforward account of a newsworthy incident, substantially corroborated by local police, which included no gratuitous information about the complainant's private life. The photograph had been used to illustrate his injuries and had not been taken out of context. It did not uphold the complaint under Clause 3.
The additional complaint under Clause 1 (Accuracy) was also not upheld.
Charlotte Dewar, Head of Complaints and Pre-publication Services, commented: "This case demonstrates some of the challenges faced by editors when they contemplate publishing material taken from social networking sites. In this instance, the presentation of the story was critical to the Commission's conclusion that there was no breach of the Code."
Notes to editors
1. To read the adjudication in full, please click here.
2. To read the Commission's recent guidance on privacy and the public domain, please click here.
3. For more information, please contact Jonathan Collett on 020 7438 1246, 07740 896 805 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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