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Privacy complaints against North-East titles rejected

Press watchdogs have today rejected separate privacy complaints against two North-East newspapers.

The first case arose after Newcastle’s Sunday Sun reported that a local radio presenter had been suspended after sending suggestive emails to a female listener, and published the text of emails subsequently sent between the pair.

The radio presenter argued this was intrusive and claimed breach of privacy under Clause 3 of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

However the newspaper contended that it was entitled to publish the information, since the DJ was a prominent local figure who had referred publicly to his wife and children, and who had used his work email account to send the messages in question.

In a ruling published today, the Press Complaints Commission agreed that the Code had not been breached and ruled that “allegations about inappropriate behaviour” in this sort of professional context could be justified in the public interest.

The Commission similarly ruled that the Darlington and Stockton Times did not breach the Editors’ Code in a story about the dismissal of a local council official.

The paper’s report gave details of a substantial termination package the official had received from his former employer, and noted that he had been absent from work due to health reasons.

The complainant argued these two points were private and confidential, and should not have been published.

However, although the Commission understood the complainant’s strength of feeling on the matter, it was nonetheless “satisfied that there was an adequate justification for the inclusion of both details”.

On the monetary point, the Commission noted the paper’s need to “explain to readers the manner in which the departure of a public servant had been handled by the council,” along with the fact that the payment involved public money.

PCC director Stephen Abell commented: “Individual privacy rights remain of course, of paramount importance, but these cases demonstrate that in some circumstances, a strong public interest can justify publication.

“The Commission is an expert body able to weigh up the sometimes conflicting rights of privacy for an individual with the freedom of a newspaper to publish information in the public interest.”