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Issue:-  23/24 December 2009

Privacy in the age of social networking

IN 2008, research commissioned by the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) indicated that 78% of internet users would think twice about posting material on social networking sites if they thought there was a chance of it being republished by the mainstream media. Given that journalists regularly do use Facebook, MySpace and others as sources of information, it is perhaps surprising, therefore, that the Commission has received only a few complaints about the use of material taken by newspapers from social networking sites. However, two recent adjudications give an indication of where the PCC stands on this subject. In Mullan, Weir and Campbell v Scottish Sunday Express, the Commission concluded that the newspaper had invaded the privacy of teenagers who, as children, survived the Dunblane massacre:- "Since the [shootings] they had done nothing to warrant media scrutiny, and images appeared to have been taken out of context and presented in a way that was designed to humiliate or embarrass them. Even if the images were available freely online [as they were], the way they were used - when there was no particular reason for the boys to be in the news - represented a fundamental failure to respect their private lives. Publication represented a serious error of judgement on the part of the newspaper." Conversely, in Goble v The People, the Commission took the view that publication of information was justified in the public interest, even though the complainant's Facebook profile could only be accessed by his online ‘friends' (one of whom contacted the newspaper):- "The individual in question was a serving police officer, commenting on a matter that was the subject of considerable media and public scrutiny. He had done so in a way that made light of a person's death and the role apparently played by the police. There was a clear public interest in knowing about police attitudes (whether publicly or privately expressed) towards the incident. In any case, posting such controversial comments to people who were not obliged to keep the information secret was likely to involve an element of risk on Mr Hayter's part, given his job. The Commission considered that any intrusion into privacy was justified by the public interest, and there was therefore no breach of Clause 3 of the Code." So what are the lessons from these rulings? The Mullen et al case demonstrates clearly that newspapers cannot automatically justify the use of material simply on the basis that it has appeared previously on the internet and is, therefore, ‘publicly available'. Even if an individual has not taken steps to protect their personal information (by hiding it behind strict privacy settings), newspapers will have to consider whether republication of the material shows respect for the individual's privacy. The same might apply in cases where the complaint is not that publication breaches Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Code but Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock). That part of the Code requires newspapers to ‘handle publication sensitively'. Therefore, while it might be perfectly reasonable to obtain and publish a picture of someone who has died from the internet, care should be taken that any image does not show the individual in a way that is insensitive to the feelings of close friends and family. On the other hand, as the Goble case demonstrates (and as the PCC set out in its ruling in Mullen et al) it can sometimes be acceptable for the press to publish information taken from social networking sites, even if the material was originally intended for a small group of acquaintances rather than a mass audience. This is normally, however, when the individual concerned has come to public attention as a result of their own actions, or is otherwise relevant to an incident currently in the news when they may expect to be the subject of some media scrutiny. In short, if journalists are using information that an individual has sought to protect behind strict privacy settings, they will need to demonstrate a clear public interest for doing so. Fundamentally, journalists should ask themselves many of the same questions as they would when deciding whether to publish any other material. For instance:- what is the nature of the material (how personal is it) and what is the public interest in publishing it? But they also need to consider questions that are specific to this issue, such as: has the person sought to restrict access to the material; is the person actually responsible for uploading it themselves? The impact of social networking sites on the media and on the PCC will be discussed at an seminar being held on 11 March 2010 in collaboration with Polis.  

How do you, our  readers, feel about the media using social networks like this?  Email our news room today!

Office of Fair Trading Faces Legal Challenge From Consumers

CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, on Tuesday, 22 December 2009, announced it will issue a legal challenge to the Office of Fair Trading’s decision to reject its super-complaint on anti-competitive practices in the UK pub market. CAMRA is pledging
funds to the appeal, but is depending on consumers helping to raise further funds to ensure this vital legal challenge can stand the best chance of success.

In October 2009 the consumer group criticised the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) for failing to protect consumers by taking no further action to address consumer detriment in the pub market following CAMRA’s super-complaint submitted in July 2009.

Under the Enterprise Act 2002, CAMRA is entitled to appeal the OFT’s decision to the Competition Appeals Tribunal, and has decided upon this course of action to continue fighting anti-competitive practices in the UK pub market.

From Tuesday, 5 January 2010, CAMRA is calling upon consumers to visit the CAMRA website and contribute to the ‘Consumers v. OFT Pub Market Ruling’ Campaign Fund.

Mike Benner, CAMRA Chief Executive, said:- "CAMRA has taken the decision to appeal due to the inability of the OFT to deal with the problems affecting the UK pub sector. CAMRA’s super-complaint to the OFT was based on securing a fair deal for the pub-goer, and building a sustainable future for Britain’s pubs. However, we believe the OFT did not take reasonable steps to understand the pub sector, and more generally why over 50 pubs are closing per week across the UK. We’ve seen the consumer watchdog scrutinised in previous years with the success of the Association of Convenience Stores’ appeal in 2005 in overturning the OFT’s decision at Tribunal. Pending the success of our appeal, CAMRA remains optimistic of Government intervention or a referral to the Competition Commission for a full investigation into the UK pub market."

Bob Young, a former member of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission and respected Principal of Europe Economics, has said the OFT’s response was “as inadequate as CAMRA’s super-complaint was compelling. The OFT has not seriously considered whether there is fair competition at a local level which ensures that consumers, or pub landlords for that matter, get the best deal. This is a critical shortcoming in the OFT's response to CAMRA."

Mike Benner concluded:- "We now urge consumers and associated trade bodies to get behind our ‘Consumers v. OFT Pub Market Ruling’ Campaign Fund in the New Year and support our appeal."

Student’s dance recital in memory of mother

TOM Wilkinson is a second year dance student at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA), will put on two dance performances with his course mates from 6pm on Tuesday, 12 January and Wednesday, 13 January 2010 at LIPA in memory of his mother, who he recently lost to oesophageal cancer. The shows will consist of commercial dance, contemporary dance and lyrical jazz.

Tom, aged 21, is organising the shows for the charity Barrett’s Oesophagus Campaign – which raises awareness of the condition Barrett’s Oesophagus and advices anyone suffering with heartburn to visit the doctor. Tom hopes his shows will educate more people about Barrett’s Oesophagus and oesophageal cancer.

Barrett's Oesophagus is an abnormal lining of the gullet, which can occur in patients with a long history of heartburn and acid reflux. This can progress to cancer and by then has a low survival rate. If detected early, a cure is possible. Tom’s mother, Karen Ashton was just 52 when she died in July 2009 and it is believed that she suffered from Barrett’s Oesophagus which then developed into cancer.

The free shows are open to the public and will be held in the Sennheiser Studio at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts. This is a ticket-free event.

Tom says:- “After my Mum died, lots of people asked me what oesophageal cancer is. The condition is not well known like breast cancer or skin cancer. Before my mum was diagnosed with cancer, she was in a lot of pain. When I was researching the illness, I came across Barrett’s Oesophagus Campaign and wanted to help the raise awareness of the illness, which is why I am holding the dance show.”

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