Decision of the Complaints Committee 05871-18 A Woman v Mail Online
Summary of complaint
1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Shocking moment driver lashes out with a knife in front of horrified children as road rage row erupts into violence in Birmingham”, published on 30 August 2018.
2. The article reported on a video filmed in Birmingham, which showed a confrontation between a motorist and the complainant and her partner following a road traffic incident. It described how a man - the complainant’s partner - could be seen “squaring up” to the other driver, who then pulled out a knife and ‘lashed out’ at him. The complainant was then quoted telling her partner to “Move, [name]!”, and asking the man recording the incident to call the police. The article stated that the “a terrified youngster can be seen sitting in the back of [the complainant’s] vehicle and screaming as the chaos unfolds”. The article included extensive quotations from the man who filmed the incident, and named the road and time when the footage was taken. It included the video of the incident in full and unpixelated, along with several still images taken from the video in which the complainant, her partner and the other motorist were shown unpixelated. None of the individuals were named in full in the article, although the complainant’s partner’s first name was revealed by the video and the quotation of what she had said to him.
3. The complainant said that the article breached Clause 2 (Privacy) because she and her partner were identifiable from the video and still images, which had been published without her consent. She said that, as a result of the images being published without any pixelation, she and her family were being approached by members of the public and were at risk of reprisals from the other man and his acquaintances. She was also concerned that the article represented a breach of Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock).
4. The publication denied any breach of Clause 2 (Privacy). It said that the incident had occurred on a public road in view of other motorists; in these circumstances, the complainant did not have any reasonable expectation of privacy. In addition, the publication said that the article did not reveal any private information about the complainant and her partner: it showed only their appearance and the fact that they were involved in a public fracas. The publication argued that, in any event, the article highlighted the issue of knife crime in the context of a ‘road rage’ incident, which was in the public interest. It also did not consider that the article intruded into any situation of grief or shock as described by the terms of Clause 4. Nevertheless, as a gesture of goodwill, the publication offered to pixelate the complainant and her partner in the video and images.
Relevant Code Provisions
5. 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.
6. Clause 4
(Intrusion into grief or shock)
In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. These provisions should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.
Findings of the Committee
7. The complainant
and her partner had been filmed in a residential street, where they had been
engaged in a confrontation with another individual; it was not in dispute that
this confrontation took place in view of other road users. Nevertheless, the
terms of Clause 2 (Privacy) make clear that an individual may have an
expectation of privacy in a public place such as a street, if they are engaged
in private activity, or if the images used reveal private information about
them. In this instance, the Committee did not consider that the video or images
showed the complainant and her partner engaged in private activity: they were
not shown doing anything that revealed any private information about them or
their family life. There was no breach of Clause 2. However, the Committee
welcomed the publication’s offer to pixilate the complainant and her partner as
a gesture of goodwill, given its concerns.
8. The article
showed the complainant and her partner engaged in a distressing and dramatic
situation. The terms of Clause 4 are generally designed to protect individuals
who are experiencing bereavement or shock from intrusive approaches from the
press, and from the insensitive handling of relevant material. In this
instance, the footage shown had been taken by a member of the public, and not
by a journalist, and there was no suggestion that the complainant had received
any contact from the publication. The article itself was a factual report of
the events shown in the video, which did not seek to make light of any of the
circumstances; the Committee did not therefore consider that the publication of
the video had been handled insensitively. As a result, the Committee did not
consider that the circumstances of this case gave rise to any breach of Clause
9. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 31/08/2018
Date decision issued: 11/01/2019
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