1386/2022 - Mr Brian McDermott and the Sunday World
Principle 5 - Privacy - The facts are accurately summarised in the Press Ombudsman’s decision. She held that the publication of a photograph showing the taxi rooftop registration number of the complainant’s taxi was in the circumstances of the case a breach of the complainant’s right to privacy under Principles 5.1 and 5.2 of the Code of Practice. In her decision she stated that no public interest was served by enabling the complainant to be identified.
The editor of the Sunday World appealed the Press Ombudsman’s decision on the grounds that there had been an error in the Press Ombudsman’s application of the Principles of the Code of Practice.
The editor argued that the complainant could have no expectation to privacy in relation to the information published on the taxi drivers’ database as this was a matter of public record and not covered by Principle 5 of the Code. In the alternative the information on the database was in the public domain.
The Press Council considered the appeal at its meeting on Wednesday, 7 December 2022.
The Press Council agreed that while the photograph was taken in a public place, in the circumstances of this case an expectation of privacy was reasonable. While the complainant was indeed “undertaking his professional duties in a public place” and “the display of his rooftop licence is an explicit requirement of his job” this was in no way germane to the public interest in the released prisoner.
There was no attempt by the editor to justify the potential identification of the complainant in this particular context as being in the public interest.
On the other hand, the Press Council noted that under Principle 5.2 of the Code privacy does not attach to matters of public record. It also noted that, as pointed out by the publication, the Handbook on the Code of Practice states that “The “public record” is a term used to describe material that has been officially published, such as court judgements, parliamentary debates and a wide range of other material from official sources.” However, the Handbook is a guide to the interpretation of the Code and does not stand alone. The Press Council considered that this definition does not explicitly encompass all material published officially, and that the context of its use is also relevant. It believes that “public record” may reasonably be interpreted as referring to material relevant to the story in question, which in this case it clearly was not, and that therefore to rely on it in this case would stretch its meaning beyond reasonable bounds.
The Press Council therefore rejected the appeal.