1386/2022 - Mr Brian McDermott and the Sunday World
On 2 November 2022 the Press Ombudsman has decided to uphold a complaint by Mr Brian McDermott that the Sunday World breached Principle 5 (Privacy) of the Press Council's Code of Practise when it published a photograph which included his taxi with visual details that could be used to identify him. He said that the newspaper had breached Principle 5.1 and 5.2 of the Code.
The photograph was taken outside Arbour Hill Prison in Dublin and was published online by the Sunday World on 23rd September 2022. It illustrated a story headlined "Fear on the streets as Ireland's most notorious rapist .... .is freed from jail." A photograph of the freed prisoner, who is named, is inset. The main photograph shows a man with his head and face covered apparently about to enter a taxi. The number plate of the car is pixelated but the roof sign shows the taxi license number.
In his initial complaint to the editor Mr McDermott stated that the newspaper had put his life in danger as people had vowed to kill the man "and I'm the only person who knows where he went when he left prison". He said, "you had no business showing those images of my car."
The editor denied any breach of the Code, stating that the release of the prisoner in question was a matter of public interest and that the photograph was taken in a public place. He said the newspaper was "under no obligation to censure or amend" the photographs taken. He said there was no suggestion that the taxi driver had done anything wrong and that the newspaper had ensured he was not visible. He said that although under no obligation to do so, the newspaper had pixelated the registration number of the car. He said that "as a gesture of goodwill" in response to Mr McDermott's complaint he had also pixelated the rooftop license number.
Mr McDermott responded that the newspaper had no right to identify him but had done so since anybody can use the taxi license number to do so using the taxi driver app.
It does not fall within the jurisdiction of the Press Ombudsman's office to decide on the question of whether or not the Sunday World put Mr McDermott's life in danger.
However, the information in the photograph could be used to identify Mr McDermott using an app that exists for purposes unrelated to the situation in question. A simple search using the license number yields Mr McDermott’s name and a photograph of him. This breaches Principle 5.1, his personal right to privacy. The Ombudsman also finds that Principle 5.2 is breached. As a taxi driver Mr McDermott is a private individual who provides a service to the public. He is not a public figure. No public interest was served by enabling him to be identified. The newspaper failed to respect his privacy and sensibilities.
While the Press Ombudsman welcomes the Sunday World's decision to pixelate the taxi licence number following the complaint, she does not find that this was sufficient given the breach of the Code.
The publication appealed the decision to the Press Council of Ireland, arguing that the Press Ombudsman had erred in her application of the Code of Practice. The Press Council considered the appeal at its meeting on 7 December 2022 and decided to reject the appeal.