Decision of the Complaints Committee 02806-19 Luck v Metro.co.uk

Decision: No breach - after investigation

Decision of the Complaints Committee 02806-19 Luck v Metro.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. Colin Luck complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Metro.co.uk breached Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Landlords request daily ‘unprotected sex’ in exchange for rent”, published on 19 March 2019.

2. The article reported that an undercover investigation by another publication had revealed the practice of landlords offering free accommodation in return for “sexual favours”. It noted that earlier in the year the CPS had issued new guidance “classifying such deals as an offence under the Sexual Offences Act 2003”, punishable by up to seven years in prison. The article said that, according to the other publication, “countless adverts offering the ‘free rooms’” were available online. It said that the complainant “described himself as a ‘professional’ offering ‘free lodging and financial assistance’” on a website, and had “asked for ‘intimacy and a relationship’ and told the woman he was speaking to they would have to ‘get together’ a couple of times a week and suggested trying tantric sex”. The article included a photograph of the complainant, which was attributed to his Facebook page.

3. The complainant said that the article breached Clause 2 (Privacy) because it included a photograph of him taken from his own Facebook profile, without his knowledge or consent, and because it identified him by name and photograph, when he had not broken any laws. He said that he had lost his job as a result of the coverage.

4. The publication denied any breach of Clause 2 (Privacy). It said that the image of the complainant had been taken from a publicly-accessible social media site, and that the complainant’s name and image were not pieces of information in relation to which he had an expectation of privacy. It said there was also a strong public interest in naming the complainant, given that the article related to the perpetration of potentially criminal acts. Nevertheless, the publication offered to remove the complainant’s image from the article, to resolve the complaint.

5. The complainant declined this offer of resolution.

Relevant Code Provisions

6. Clause 2 (Privacy)*

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

7. The Public Interest

1. The public interest includes, but is not confined to: 

  • Detecting or exposing crime, or the threat of crime, or serious impropriety.
  • Protecting public health or safety.
  • Protecting the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.
  • Disclosing a person or organisation’s failure or likely failure to comply with any obligation to which they are subject.
  • Disclosing a miscarriage of justice.
  • Raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public.
  • Disclosing concealment, or likely concealment, of any of the above.

2. There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.

3. The regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will become so.

4. Editors invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they reasonably believed publication - or journalistic activity taken with a view to publication – would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest and explain how they reached that decision at the time.

Findings of the Committee

8. The complainant did not dispute that the photograph had been taken from his publicly-accessible social media profile. In addition, it did not show him engaging in any private activity, or reveal anything private about him. In these circumstances, the complainant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy over the photograph, and publishing it did not amount to an intrusion into his private life; there was no breach of Clause 2 on this point.

9. The Committee noted that an individual’s name is not in itself a piece of private information about them. While there was a potential for intrusion arising from the publication of the complainant’s name in connection with the claims attributed to his conduct, in this instance, there was a sufficient public interest in identifying the complainant, given that the publication had set out a basis for considering that his actions were at least potentially criminal. The Committee noted that the complainant did not have any reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the comments he had freely made to the undercover reporter from the other publication in his meeting with her in a public place, or in relation to the contents of the publicly-available advert. There was no breach of Clause 2 (Privacy) on these points.

Conclusions

10. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

11. N/A.

Date complaint received: 26 March 2019

Date decision issued: 27 June 2019

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