Ofcom dismisses school privacy complaint

No privacy behind the bike sheds

Broadcasting regulator Ofcom has dismissed a privacy complaint brought by a Bristol headteacher over a regional TV news item on poorly performing schools that showed footage of the school and a small number of students.

The West Tonight News on ITV on 19 January 2006 featured a report on the Bristol schools that were propping up the GCSE league tables in the city. Henbury Secondary School was named in the report as one of the worst schools and footage was included of the school buildings and grounds. Clare Bamford, the headteacher and two unnamed students were interviewed as to how they thought the school was failing.

Mrs Bamford complained to Ofcom on behalf of the school and herself. The complaint also included one of being treated unfairly, as a result of selective editing, which was also dismissed.

She complained that the school’s privacy had been infringed by the filming of students smoking behind a shed in the grounds without consent. Permission had only been given to film interviews inside and during the lunch break.

In dismissing the privacy complaint, Ofcom noted that none of the students filmed smoking or their parents had complained of an unwarranted infringement. Filming had been in the open, non-surreptitous and had been acknowledged by students at the time. The students smoking were visible from the public street. No legitimate private interest or activity had been recorded, nor was the footage inherently ‘private’ to the school itself. The transmitted footage of the students was out of focus and extremely brief making it unlikely that viewers would identify individuals or that they were engaged in smoking.