IPSO Blog: Use of Photography

Communications Officer Freddie Locock-Harrison discusses the use of photography in journalism and how this interacts with the Editors' Code of Practice

Photography is a crucial part of reporting and one that often helps illustrate the content of both print and online articles. However, use of photography presents a number of challenges to journalists and editors as concerns over context, public interest, and source of images can limit their usage and potentially lead to regulatory issues. 

Photography is mainly covered by Clauses 1 (Accuracy), 2 (Privacy), 3 (Harassment), and 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge), although most Clauses of the Editors’ Code can relate to photography due to its wide range as a reporting medium. 

Clause 1 (Accuracy) 

The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text. Distorted images could refer to edited photographs as well as photographs that do not contextually support the article they appear in. Metadata is particularly important here, as it can help journalists source photos from the right place and date. 

Examples of rulings involving photography and Clause 1 (Accuracy): 

07356-21 Nelson v Sunday Life 

In this ruling, the complainant was incorrectly identified as being present at a riot. The evidence was a photograph taken of two men wearing balaclavas with the second man identified as the complainant by two anonymous sources. The Committee understood that the newspaper had an obligation to protect its confidential sources under Clause 14 (Confidential Sources), but it did not consider that protection of its sources absolved the publication of the requirement to take care over the accuracy of information included in its articles. 

Clause 2 (Privacy) 

One of the more common triggers of Clause 2 (Privacy) complaints is the use of photography that complainants believe is a breach of their privacy. Privacy and photography essentially boils down to what constitutes a public space. A public space is a place where an individual does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as a public road or event. Conversely, individuals have a right to privacy in intimate locations such as restaurants as well as their own homes and should not be photographed without their permission in these spaces. 

Examples of rulings involving photography and Clause 2 (Privacy): 

10225-21 A man and a woman v Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald 

In this ruling, one of the complainants said that her privacy was breached because her cancer diagnosis was revealed in the text of an article. The Committee did not uphold the complaint as the article also contained a picture of the complainant on a charity bike ride wearing a t shirt with the slogan ‘It came, we fought, I won, Survivor’. As this was a public event and had also been extensively promoted on her social media, the Committee ruled that the diagnosis was already in the public sphere. 

12200-21 Moulds v Mail Online 

An image of the complainant’s house was used in an article containing further information about the complainant’s village and living situation. The complaint was resolved after IPSO mediated between the publication and the complainant, resulting in the photograph of the complainant’s house being removed. 

Social Media Special Consideration 

Social Media has blurred the lines of private and public space. IPSO has released guidance for journalists and editors on how best to handle this content, including pictures taken from social media. In general, privacy settings should be respected and timestamps should be checked to ensure any pictures are contemporary to the article being written. More information can be found here. 

Clause 3 (Harassment) 

Clause 3 protects members of the public from prolonged exposure to press harassment. Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment, or persistent pursuit and should not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing, or photographing individuals once asked to desist. If there is valid public interest in pursuing a story, then the Code allows for persistence. In cases of potential press harassment, members of the public can ask IPSO to issue a Privacy Notice communicating a request to desist. 

Examples of rulings involving photography and Clause 3 (Harassment): 

02643-21 James v Mail Online 

Here the actress Lily James had a complaint upheld under both Clause 2 and Clause 3 after a series of 51 articles were published about her personal life in the Mail Online. The complaint was upheld under Clause 3 after three separate Privacy Notices were issued on her behalf after reporters continued to try and photograph and talk to her outside of her home. 

Privacy Notices 

Where appropriate, IPSO issues Privacy 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 pass on concerns about the potential publication of intrusive or private information. More information can be found here. 

Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) 

The press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices. Clandestine devices in terms of photography can refer to both the use of hidden cameras and of using subversive means to obtain photographs whether through deceit or through the use of technology such as drones and long lens cameras. Journalists should consider the public interest in the use of such technology or means. 

Examples of rulings involving photography and Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge): 

27791-20 Soulsby and Summerland v Mail Online 

This interesting ruling involved complainants pictured in a public place but photographed from within a neighbour’s property. Whilst the Committee acknowledged that the complainants were unaware of the photograph being taken, they concluded that the complainants were in full public view and that the use of subterfuge would not have revealed anything which could not have been photographed by a camera used openly in a public place. 

Key Points 

  • Photography should be used responsibly and contextually, and metadata should be checked to avoid an accidental breach of Clause 1. 
  • Clause 2 is a particularly important consideration when using images in an article – take care not to unintentionally breach someone’s privacy by knowing the source of the image and seeking permissions if needed. 
  • If someone wishes not to be contacted by the press and a Privacy Notice is issued, journalists should take care not to breach Clause 3 by continuing to attempt to engage with the individual(s) through questions or photography. 

 Published 6 September 2022