In upholding a complaint that the Scottish Sunday Express intruded into the privcy of survivors of the Dunblane massacre, the Press Complaints Commisssion has issued new advice on when papers should use pictures taken from Facebook.
The PCC said:"This case represented the latest example of newspapers using material that has been uploaded by members of the public on to social networking sites. The Commission considers that it can be acceptable in some circumstances for the press to publish information taken from such websites, even if the material was originally intended for a small group of acquaintances rather than a mass audience.
"This is normally, however, when the individual concerned has come to public attention as a result of their own actions, or are otherwise relevant to an incident currently in the news when they may expect to be the subject of some media scrutiny. Additionally, if the images used are freely available (rather than hidden behind strict privacy settings), innocuous and used simply to illustrate what someone looks like it is less likely that publication will amount to a privacy intrusion. Circumventing privacy settings to obtain information will require a public interest justification.
"In this case, while the boys’ identities appeared to have been made public in 1996, it was also the case – as the article itself had recognised – that they had since been brought up away from the media spotlight. The article conceded that ‘no photographs of any of the children have been seen in more than a decade’. They were not public figures in any meaningful sense, and the newsworthy event that they had been involved in as young children had happened 13 years previously.
"Since then they had done nothing to warrant media scrutiny, and the images appeared to have been taken out of context and presented in a way that was designed to humiliate or embarrass them. Even if the images were available freely online, the way they were used – when there was no particular reason for the boys to be in the news – represented a fundamental failure to respect their private lives. Publication represented a serious error of judgement on the part of the newspaper.
"Although the editor had taken steps to resolve the complaint, and rightly published an apology, the breach of the Code was so serious that no apology could remedy it."