475/2020 - A Woman and The Echo

By admin
Monday, 12th October 2020
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The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint that The Echo breached Principle 5 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland. 

The Echo published an article under the heading “Wearing face masks a ‘new way of being’”. The article was illustrated by a photograph of a number of people on a street. One woman in the photograph wearing a face mask was most prominent. The caption under the photograph read “A woman wears a face mask in Cork city to protect herself from coronavirus”. 

The woman in the photograph (the complainant) wrote to the editor of The Echo stating that the photograph was taken without her knowledge and published without her consent. She said this caused her “a lot of stress”. She said it was unfair to single her out and that she would never have given her consent for the photograph to be published. 

The editor of The Echo replied stating that the newspaper did not need permission if the photograph was taken in a public area. He said that out of respect for the complainant his newspaper would ensure that the photograph was not used again. 

As the complainant was not satisfied with this response she made a formal complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman stating that the publication of her photograph breached Principle 5 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice 

The editor of The Echo expressed his regret that the publication of the photograph had caused the woman upset and distress. However he said that the publication of the photograph of the woman did not breach Principle 5 as the photograph was taken in a public place and the article and accompanying images used to illustrate the article were matters of public interest. 

As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision. 

Decision of Press Ombudsman 

First of all, I fully recognise the distress the publication of the photograph has caused to a person who values her privacy and does not wish to see her image in a newspaper. 

As a general rule photographers may take photographs of people in public places (such as streets) and newspapers may publish these photographs without the expressed permission of the people included in the photographs. However, account has to be taken of the subject matter of any accompanying article and the context.  In the case of the photograph under complaint no criticism or disrespect towards the subject in the photograph was intended or could be implied.  For these reasons I believe The Echo did not breach Principle 5 of the Code of Practice. The permission of the woman in the photograph was not required.  

I have some reservations about the fact that only one person was featured prominently in the photograph and it would have been preferable if that person was informed of the  taking of the photograph and her consent to publish was sought. However, this reservation is not sufficient to uphold the complaint. The work of photographers would be impossible if permission of all people whose images are taken in public places had to give consent. I believe this requirement can only be a consideration when the context of the photograph is negative or in some way intrusive towards the subject.  

22 September 2020