Decision of the Complaints Committee 16970-17 Obuchowska v Mail Online
Summary of complaint
1. Beata Obuchowska complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Kennel maid battled to survive as two ferocious dogs mauled her for 40 minutes after escaping their cages leaving her almost naked and missing two fingers”, published on 4 July 2017.
2. The article was a report of the trial of an individual, on charges of being in charge of dogs which were dangerously out of control, which had attacked the complainant. The article included a photograph of the complainant standing outside of the court building.
3. The complainant said that the photograph had been taken without her knowledge and consent, in breach of Clause 3. She said that on the day of the court hearing, a news agency employee had been informed by her, and a police officer, that she did not want to be photographed. The complainant also said that the publication of the photograph had intruded into her private life, as she had a reasonable expectation of privacy while standing within the court precinct.
4. The complainant said that the publication of the article, including the photograph, had intruded into her grief and shock following the trial. She said that the photograph would identify her to members of the public, and she expressed concerns for her safety.
5. The publication apologised for any distress caused to the complainant, but did not accept that there had been a breach of the Code. It said that on the day of the trial, a reporter and a photographer were present at court. The reporter was informed that the complainant did not wish to be photographed, however this message was not relayed to the photographer, who was outside of the court building at this time. The publication denied that the photograph was taken in circumstances of harassment, and provided a copy of correspondence from the photographer which sought to demonstrate that he was not aware of the complainant’s request.
6. The publication said that the photograph was taken from a public road and merely showed the complainant standing outside the court, on a public pavement, in view of members of the public. It provided a photograph of the general view of the building in order to demonstrate its position. The publication said that the complainant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in these circumstances and as such, it did not require the complainant’s consent to photograph her. It said that the photograph did not convey any private information about the complainant, and noted that it did not show the injuries that she was said to have sustained as a result of the attack.
7. The publication acknowledged that the attack and subsequent trial was a difficult period for the complainant, however it said that it was entitled to report on the court proceedings. It said that the publication of a photograph where the complainant was standing in a public place, at the conclusion of a public court hearing, did not amount to a breach of Clause 4. Nonetheless, it offered to remove the photograph as a gesture of goodwill.
Relevant Code Provisions
8. 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. Account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Clause 3 (Harassment)
i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.
ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.
iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.
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
9. The Committee extended its sympathy to the complainant for the circumstances that led to her attendance at court.
10. The terms of Clause 3 do not prevent journalists from photographing individuals, rather, they outline that journalists must not persist in photographing individuals once asked to desist. While the Committee acknowledged the complainant’s position, that she did not wish to be photographed, the photographer was not aware of this request. Furthermore, the complainant was standing in a public place at the time; she was not approached by the photographer; and it was not suggested that he had intimidated the complainant or engaged in harassing behaviour. There was no breach of Clause 3.
11. The image showed the complainant standing outside of the court building - which appeared to be located on a main road – following public court proceedings. The Committee acknowledged that it is standard journalistic practice for individuals to be photographed while leaving and entering court buildings and in any event, the complainant could have been seen clearly from a public road. The Committee did not consider that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in these circumstances, and in the context of a court report where the complainant had been named in the proceedings. Furthermore, the image was used to show the complainant’s likeness and it did not reveal any private information about her. The publication of the photograph did not represent an intrusion into the complainant’s private life. There was no breach of Clause 2.
12. The Committee acknowledged that the publication of the article had caused the complainant distress, however the newspaper was entitled to report on the court proceedings. There was no breach of Clause 4.
13. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 21/07/2017
Date decision issued: 23/11/2017