A complaint against a regional newspaper from a man photographed smoking in a café in Scotland has been rejected.
The man had complained to the Press Complaints Commission which were used to illustrate an article in the Glasgow Evening Times about a “crackdown” by Glasgow City Council on shisha cafes flouting the smoking ban.
The photographs showed the man smoking a hookah pipe at a café. He said he had been assured by the photographer that he would be “out of focus” and had understood from this that he would not be identifiable.
However the PCC has ruled that the article not breach Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
The sharpest focus of the photographs had been on the pipe but the complainant’s features were readily identifiable.
The man said it was intrusive but the Times did not accept a breach of the code, and denied that the photographer had misled the complainant.
It provided a statement from the photographer, asserting that he had clearly identified himself and his purpose to the group with which the complainant was seated.
The photographer explained to the complainant that the main focus would be on the hookah pipe, the rest of his body being out of focus. At no point did the complainant object to the pictures being taken.
The newspaper also provided a statement from the owner of the café, who confirmed that the photographer had asked his permission before taking “quite a few” pictures and had made clear to him that the pictures might be published in the newspaper.
The commission said in line with its existing case law, the complainant would generally have had a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in the café.
The key issue for the commission was the nature of the consent he had provided for the taking of the photograph – if an individual has consented to be photographed in a private place on condition that he will not be identifiable, publication of a photograph in which he was identifiable “would normally amount to an intrusion”.
However, it could not be established that the photographer’s comments amounted to such an assurance
However, the PCC made clear its regret that the photographer had used a phrase which had confused the complainant, and stressed the need for newspapers and magazines to ‘take steps to ensure that any conditions or assurances are clearly agreed in advance’.
Charlotte Dewar, head of complaints and pre-publication services, said: “This was an unusual and difficult case for the commission. Its ruling draws attention to the importance of ‘full and open communication’ about the taking of photographs, particularly if they show an individual in a private place.”
The newspaper offered to remove the image from its website as a gesture of goodwill, but it did not accept any breach of the code