Ruling

02845-18 Beattie and Atkinson v The Belfast Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      23rd August 2018

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 02845-18 Beattie and Atkinson v The Belfast Telegraph

Summary of complaint

1. Lesa Jane Beattie and Melanie Atkinson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Belfast Telegraph breached Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined, “Orangeman is backed after attending daughter’s same-sex civil ceremony,” published on 26 February 2018.

2. The article reported on the complainants’ recent civil partnership. It reported that the father of one of the complainants was a senior member of the Orange Order, who had attended the ceremony and walked his daughter down the aisle. It reported that his involvement may cause controversy, due to the organisation’s opposition to same sex marriage. It included a number of quotations from members of the Orange Order regarding his decision to attend the event, as well as a quotation from the complainant’s father, who said, “I don’t know if I’ll get into trouble for going to the ceremony, but that’s not up to me… I’m all for equality and people having the right to make their own choices.” The article also included a photograph of the two complainants in their wedding dresses, standing outside the venue where the ceremony had taken place with the complainant’s father.

3. The article was also published online, with the same headline, and was substantially the same as the article that appeared in print.

4. The complainants said that they were both private individuals who had not made public disclosures about their lifestyles and sexual orientation. They were concerned that the article had only been published due to the prominent position the complainant’s father held within the Orange Order, and said that this did not justify the intrusion into their private life. They said that they had been photographed, without their consent, outside the hotel where the ceremony had taken place, which they said was a breach of their privacy.

5. The newspaper did not accept that it had breached the Code. It said that there was a clear public interest in reporting the fact that a senior member of the Orange Order had played a role in his daughter’s civil partnership ceremony, given the organisation’s public statements in opposition of same-sex relationships. It said that this was a positive story, in which a lot of members of the organisation expressed support for the father’s decision and provided a number of links to other media outlets who had also reported on the story. It said that the complainant’s father had himself discussed his attendance with a reporter from a sister publication, and his quote was included in the article. In these circumstances, it believed that the article was justified, in the public interest. 

6. It said that the photograph had not been taken in circumstances were the complainants had a reasonable expectation of privacy. It said that they were standing outside the entrance to the hotel, which was not a private location, and was visible from the road.  It said the photographer had taken photographs in full public view, and said by the time the newspaper decided to publish the photograph, the couple had published photographs of them together at the event publicly, on their social media accounts, and provided screenshots of these photographs. It said that in these circumstances, the editorial team had decided that the complainants did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to what was shown in the pictures, but even if they did, it believed that this was outweighed by the public interest in illustrating the involvement of the complainant’s father in the ceremony, which was the focus of the article.

Relevant Code Provisions

7. 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.

The Public Interest

There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in 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.

5. An exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16.

Findings of the Committee

8.  A marriage or civil partnership is a public declaration of a relationship. The fact of the complainants’ civil partnership was in the public domain and was not information about which they had a reasonable expectation of privacy. In relation to the taking of the photograph, the complainants had been photographed within the precincts of the venue where their civil partnership ceremony had taken place. While the complainants had not been aware that they were being photographed as they chatted with guests who had attended their wedding ceremony, they had been photographed standing outside the venue where they were visible from the road. The photograph published did not contain any private information about the complainants and showed only the appearance of the complaints, and one of their fathers, which the complainants had put into the public domain themselves, as they had posted photographs of the day on social media. In these circumstances, the complainants’ expectation of privacy, if any, was limited. Also, the Committee recognised the genuine public interest in reporting on the attendance of a high profile member of the Orange Order at the event, given the organisation’s comments on same-sex relationships. In these circumstances, publication of the photograph did not amount to a breach of Clause 2.

9. The complainants were concerned that the publication had only reported the fact of their civil partnership due to the high profile position the complainant’s father held within the Orange Order. However, the selection of material for publication is a matter of editorial discretion, so long as the Code has not otherwise been breached. In this case, the fact that the complainants had had a civil partnership was not private, and the newspaper was entitled to report this. Doing so did not represent a breach of Clause 2.

Conclusions

10. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

11. N/A

Date complaint received: 04/04/2018

Date decision issued: 03/08/2018