582/2020 - A Woman and the Sunday World

By Gabrielle Collins
Friday, 26th February 2021
Filed under:

The Press Ombudsman has not upheld a complaint that the Sunday World breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy) and Principle 5 (Privacy) of the Code of Practice of the Press Council of Ireland.

The Sunday World published an article some months ago on the whereabouts of a man recently released from prison having been incarcerated for almost five years. The man had been convicted of sexual abuse of his wife’s daughters. Upon release from prison, he had returned to living with his wife. Photographs accompanying the article showed the man in a garden with his wife in the background. The woman’s face had been pixelated. In addition, there was an image published of the house where the woman lived. The article quoted a daughter as saying that the man had installed security cameras around the house.

The woman wrote to the editor of the Sunday World stating that the article included lies about her and that she objected to the inclusion of the photograph of the house of which she said she was the “sole owner”.

As she did not receive a response from the Sunday World she made a complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman. She claimed the photographs of her and her house breached her rights to privacy and put her and her family in danger. She also objected to the publication of her “full address”. In a subsequent letter she clarified that “we always had CCTV… we just upgraded them this year”.

The editor of the Sunday World defended the accuracy of the article. He challenged the “import of the distinction” between installing and upgrading CCTV cameras. He did not see this as a significant inaccuracy which required correction or clarification. He further stated that  the woman was  not  identifiable in the photograph, and  that the  woman had chosen to make  herself a figure of public interest  when she decided to give  press interviews on foot of her husband’s conviction for sexually abusing her daughters. In these circumstances he claimed that Principle 5 had not been breached.

As the complaint could not be resolved by conciliation it was forwarded to the Press Ombudsman for a decision.

Principle 1

Principle 1.2 requires that where a significant inaccuracy has been published it should be corrected. The distinction between installing CCTV cameras and upgrading CCTV cameras is not a significant inaccuracy and therefore did not require correction. For this reason, Principle 1 was not breached.

Principle 5

The complainant based her claim of a breach of her privacy on three matters -  the publication of her photograph, the publication of a photograph of her house and the inclusion of her address in the article.

The complainant was photographed in her front garden. In the image published in the newspaper her face was pixelated. It is widely accepted that a very high level of privacy can be expected if people are in their own homes. People in their front gardens are in view from a public place and lesser expectations of privacy can be expected. Allowing for the fact that her face was pixelated the woman’s privacy was not breached by the publication of her photograph.

People’s rights of privacy do not extend to the prohibition of publication of images of the exterior of their houses if the photograph is taken from a public place. Indeed, the exterior of most homes in the country are available on Google Maps and can be seen by anyone.

Newspapers may publish addresses in certain circumstances without breaching the Code of Practice. This includes where it is necessary to give an address in order to avoid wrongly identifying people who may share the same name as the subject of an article. In these circumstances the Sunday World did not breach the woman’s privacy by publishing her address.

18 December 2020