IPSO Blog: Photography

Former Head of Standards Charlotte Urwin addresses some of the questions we’ve had in response to our photography podcast.

Have you listened to our podcast on photography yet? It’s one of our most popular – and we’ve had lots of comments and questions about it. 

In the last few weeks I’ve also attended several meetings where the use of photos has been discussed. Given continued interest in this area, I thought it might be worthwhile discussing several of the issues raised recently around the topic of newspaper photography 

Photography – what are the rules? 

Don’t forget that the Editors’ Code encompasses more than just words – all editorial content, including photos, videos and audio material – is covered. In terms of photographs some of the most common clauses complaints are made under are: 

Clause 1 (Accuracy) pictures – and that includes both stills and video – can be misleading, so should be handled with care. 

Clause 2 (Privacy) – it’s unacceptable to photograph individuals without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. The concept of a “reasonable expectation” of privacy is a problem confronted every working day by photographers. It’s a difficult decision whether a person in a public place has a reasonable expectation of privacy. This is a particular problem when the pictures involve celebrities, who develop their careers through exposure in the media. Splashing around on a public beach in full public view is different to sunbathing in your back garden and a head and shoulders picture does not show anything intrinsically private but a far more revealing picture may well do. 

Clause 3 (Harassment) photographers must stop taking pictures when asked to desist. 

Images can be powerful – but how far is too far? 

Photos can be a powerful way of communicating things that words cannot – but sometimes images can be controversial. There may well be photos which people find distasteful or inappropriate. However, the power of photos in highlighting issues and conveying powerfully the human aspect of a tragedy should not be forgotten. 

Members of our Readers’ Advisory Panel recently discussed this in relation to photos of the Manchester Arena attack, as part of a broader conversation reflecting on how the terror attack was covered. 

There were differing opinions voiced by our panel about the sort of coverage they wanted to see of major incidents in their newspapers or magazines. In the case of the Manchester Arena attack, the panel recognised that many of the victims of the attack were children. For some panellists, this meant that newspapers had a strong public interest in showing the full horror of the attack, including photos of victims; whilst others felt strongly that the press should limit the photos they showed of the victims because of their age. 

Colleagues and I recently attended a meeting with organisations interested in the coverage of student suicides at Bristol University and the University of the West of England, including representatives from both universities as well as public health officials and a representative from the Samaritans. We had a useful discussion about how the standards in the reporting of suicides have generally improved in recent years and how IPSO can help the families affected by this tragedy. 

The group were concerned by the publication of photo galleries of those who had taken their own lives. Research shows that in young people especially, exposure to suicide can lead to increased risk of suicidal thoughts. In addition, people bereaved by suicide are more likely themselves to choose to take their own lives. Our recent guest blogs by Samaritans address some of these issues and we will be addressing this issue in guidance on the reporting of suicide that we will publish later this year. 

Photographs taken in circumstances of harassment 

When we talk about newspaper photographers, many people imagine huge scrums of paparazzi rushing to take photos. 

This rarely happens to ordinary people, but if you do find yourself in the centre of a media story, IPSO can help. When carrying out reporting, journalists and photographers (even agency staff working for a regulated IPSO publisher) must adhere to the strict rules in Editors’ Code. If someone has asked a photographer or journalist to desist they must stop contacting you. 

Where appropriate we issue Private Advisory Notices to newspapers making it clear an individual does not want to be interviewed and to stop making approaches. The notices are extremely effective as a tool to tackle media “scrums” or to prevent harassment and can also pass on concerns about the potential publication of intrusive or private information. 

Using photos from social media 

Nowadays, when almost everyone has a smart phone with a camera, and because of the popularity of photo sharing social media apps like Instagram and Facebook, almost everybody could be considered a photographer! 

People often contact us because they are concerned about newspapers or magazines publishing photos or personal information from websites. When you put information onto social media, you are putting it into the public domain for other people to view. Unless your posts are protected by privacy settings, anyone, including journalists, can see them. 

Journalists are normally allowed to publish photos, comments and information from social media profiles, forums or blogs if there are no privacy settings protecting them and they do not show anything private. This may have been put there by you or someone else via social media. 

However journalists must always consider whether publishing information taken from social media might intrude on your grief or privacy and they should not publish information which is about a child’s welfare without parental permission, or which might identify a victim of a sexual offence, without the permission of that person. We have guidance on this available here. 

The old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words still rings true today, but it also raises new challenges. If you have any comments about the issues raised in the blog, get in touch with us here. 


Originally published 6 July 2018.