Ruling

05768-18 Solomon v Mail Online

    • Date complaint received

      4th March 2019

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      2 Privacy, 6 Children

Decision of the Complaints Committee 05768-18 Solomon v Mail Online

Summary of complaint

1. Fiona Solomon complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation on behalf of the Solomon family, including her daughters, Jemma and Stacey, that Mail Online breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined: “Stacey Solomon PICTURE EXLUSIVE: TV star wows in dove grey bridesmaid dress at her sister’s wedding… yet can’t resist stealing a cigarette break before the nuptials”, published on 25 August 2018.

2. The article reported that Stacey Solomon, a television presenter, had attended the wedding of her sister. The article was accompanied by a number of photographs of the wedding party taken in the grounds of the venue, including the bride in her wedding dress walking alongside her father, and Stacey Solomon smoking, and bending down to adjust her sister’s dress. A number of photographs featured the complainant’s grandchildren, with their faces pixelated.

3. The complainants said that the photographs had been taken without their knowledge and consent while they had been engaged in private family life. They said that the publication of the images was an unjustified intrusion into their privacy. The complainants said further, that the publication of pixelated images of the children, without parental consent, was a breach of Clause 6.

4. The complainants said that the publication had made no attempt to seek consent from the family, or to establish the circumstances in which the photographs had been taken before publication. They said that the entire venue had been booked out for the wedding, and the angle of the photographs demonstrated that the photographer would have been standing within the private grounds of the hotel when the images were taken, as the area would not have been visible from the public road.

5.  The complainants said that, apart from Stacey Solomon, the family was not in the public eye, and there was no public interest in reporting on the wedding or publishing photos from it. The complainants expressed concern that Jemma Solomon had been denied the excitement of seeing the pictures that were taken by her official wedding photographer on the day. While the complainants acknowledged that Stacey Solomon was in the public eye, they said that she still had the right to have her privacy respected. They said that the photographs of Stacey smoking were particularly intrusive, as they were intended to expose her to ridicule.

6. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the photographs were taken in circumstances where there was no reasonable expectation of privacy, and it did not accept that the terms of Clause 6 were engaged.

7. The publication said that it had obtained the photographs from a press agency. Prior to publication, it had asked the agency about the circumstances in which the pictures were taken; the agency had explained that the hotel wedding venue was situated within grounds that were open to the public. The publication provided a marked-up aerial photograph of the hotel, and clarified that the photographer had been standing on the edge of the grounds, and not on the public road which ran alongside, at the time the photographs were taken.

8. The publication noted the complainant’s position that the venue had been “booked out” on the day; it acknowledged that this was something which was offered by the venue, but said that there was no mention on the venue’s website that this meant that the hotel and grounds were solely for the private use of the guests only. The publication said that weddings can never be private ceremonies and all civil wedding venues must ensure that the premises are open to the public. It said that although the photographer took steps not to intrude on the events on the day by keeping a respectful distance from the wedding party during the ceremony, the grounds would have been open to the public, as not to do so would have meant the venue being in breach of the licence conditions.

9. The publication said that a wedding is the most public aspect of a relationship and no private information was revealed from the photographs. The publication said that a number of people pictured, namely Jemma Solomon and her father, had been featured in the media already to some extent, and aspects of their family life had already been placed into the public domain.

10. The publication said that shortly after publication, it had been contacted by a PR representative of Stacey Solomon, who had requested removal of the images. The publication provided copies of this correspondence, in which the representative had said: “I appreciate that you will want to retain the photos of Stacey and [her partner], but her sister has kept her wedding day off of social media etc to keep it private until the professional photos”. It noted that at least initially, it had been made plain that Stacey Solomon had no expectation of privacy.

11. The publication said that the terms of Clause 6 were not engaged, because the children had not been photographed on an issue which involved their welfare. Notwithstanding this, it said that it pixelated the features of the children heavily, prior to publication, and no private information had been revealed about them. It noted that Stacey Solomon had published an image on Instagram of herself, her partner and her children on the day of the wedding, and that Jemma Solomon had similarly published unpixelated pictures of her children on social media.

12. While the publication did not accept a breach of the Code, as a gesture of goodwill, and in an attempt to resolve the complaint, the publication removed the photographs of the bride. It also offered to remove the photographs of the other family members and their children, except for the images of Stacey Solomon.

Relevant Code Provisions

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.

Clause 6 (Children)

i) All pupils should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.

iii) Children under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child’s welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.

v) Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child's private life.

Findings of the Committee

13. A marriage is a public declaration of a relationship; the fact of a marriage is not information about which there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. However, information relating to the celebrations in connection with a wedding, including photographs, may be part of an individual’s private and family life in respect of which the individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy, depending upon the circumstances. The Code requires publications to show respect for an individual’s private and family life and to justify any intrusions, including the taking of photographs in both public and private places, in circumstances where an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy and has not provided consent.

14. The photographer, without permission, had entered the grounds of the hotel, which the complainants had booked out for the purpose of the wedding. In such circumstances, the complainants had a reasonable expectation that the grounds of the hotel would be respected as a place where they could enjoy their private and family lives, without intrusion.  The photographer had taken a number of photographs of the complainants in several locations which would not have easily been visible from the public road which ran alongside the hotel. These photographs had been taken, without the complainants’ knowledge and consent, while they had been socialising together and engaging in their private and family lives. Publishing photographs of the complainants taken in such circumstances represented an intrusion; the publication had not sought to justify the publication of the images in the public interest. The complaint under Clause 2 was upheld.

15. The publication of the photographs of the complainant’s grandchildren represented an intrusion, in breach of Clause 2, for the reasons explained above. The Committee acknowledged that these photographs had been pixelated such that the children’s likeness had not been revealed, however, it was foreseeable that they would be identifiable through their association with their parents.

16. The question for the Committee under Clause 6 was whether the children had been photographed on an issue which involved their welfare. The information disclosed about the complainant’s grandchildren in the photographs in their pixelated form was limited. They had been photographed in the grounds of the hotel as part of the wedding party: these were not issues which involved their welfare. In such circumstances, the terms of Clause 6 (iii) were not engaged; no consent for the photographs from a parent was therefore required. The complainant had not sought to argue that the published photographs represented an intrusion into the children’s time at school. There was no breach of Clause 6.

Conclusion

17. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial Action Required

18. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required.

19. Where the Committee has upheld a complaint as a breach of Clause 2, the appropriate remedial action is the publication of an adjudication.

20. The adjudication should be published online, with a link to it (including the headline) being published on the top 50% of the publication’s homepage for 24 hours, with a link to the full adjudication (including the headline) appearing on the homepage for 24 hours; it should then be archived in the usual way. The headline to the adjudication should make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint, give the title of the publication and refer to the complaint’s subject matter. The headline must be agreed with IPSO in advance. The publication should contact IPSO to confirm the amendments it now intends to make to the article to avoid the continued publication of material in breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice. If the article remains online un-amended, the full adjudication (including the headline) should appear below the headline.

21. The terms of the adjudication for publication are as follows:

Fiona Solomon complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation on behalf of the Solomon family, including her daughters, Jemma and Stacey, that Mail Online breached Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined: “Stacey Solomon PICTURE EXLUSIVE: TV star wows in dove grey bridesmaid dress at her sister’s wedding… yet can’t resist stealing a cigarette break before the nuptials”, published on 25 August 2018.

The article reported that Stacey Solomon, a television presenter, had attended the wedding of her sister. The article was accompanied by a number of photographs of the wedding party taken in the grounds of the venue.

The complainants said that the photographs had been taken without their knowledge and consent while they had been engaged in private family life. The complainants said that, apart from Stacey Solomon, the family was not in the public eye, and there was no public interest in reporting on the wedding or publishing photos from it.

The publication said that a wedding is the most public aspect of a relationship and no private information was revealed from the photographs. The publication said that weddings can never be private ceremonies and all civil wedding venues must ensure that the premises are open to the public. It said that although the photographer took steps not to intrude on the events on the day by keeping a respectful distance from the wedding party during the ceremony, the grounds would have been open to the public, as not to do so would have meant the venue being in breach of the licence conditions.

The photographer, without permission, had entered the grounds of the hotel, which the complainants had booked out for the purpose of the wedding. In such circumstances, the complainants had a reasonable expectation that the grounds of the hotel would be respected as a place where they could enjoy their private and family lives, without intrusion.  The photographer had taken a number of photographs of the complainants in several locations which would not have easily been visible from the public road which ran alongside the hotel. These photographs had been taken, without the complainants’ knowledge and consent, while they had been socialising together and engaging in their private and family lives. Publishing photographs of the complainants taken in such circumstances represented an intrusion; the publication had not sought to justify the publication of the images in the public interest. The complaint under Clause 2 was upheld.

Independent Complaints Reviewer

The publication complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.

Date complaint received: 25/08/2018

Date decision issued: 24/01/2019