Ofcom upholds privacy complaint

BBC censured for identifying object of schoolboy crush in The Real Little Britain

In a surprising decision by broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, the BBC has been found to have breached the privacy of a teacher by revealing in a programme that he was the unwitting object of a teenage crush.

The Real Little Britain, broadcast on BBC3 in October last year, attempted to find real life examples of the characters from the hit comedy series Little Britain. One of the peopled interviewed, Stuart, was put forward as a parallel for the fictional character, Dafydd (the only gay in the village) in Little Britain. He discussed the issues of growing up gay in a small Welsh village and revealed that he had once had a crush on a teacher whom he named in the programme.

The programme had made no suggestion that the teacher had any idea of Stuart’s feelings towards him or that anything inappropriate had taken place.

The teacher had complained that by naming him as being his first ‘crush’ while at school and by disclosing that he was a teacher, he had been the subject of an unwarranted infringement of his privacy.

The BBC did not put forward any public interest defence, but argued that there had simply been no infringement of the teacher’s privacy in disseminating the information that had been broadcast.

Ofcom, however, upheld the complaint and ruled:

“… in the context of this programme, revealing [the teacher’s] name and occupation did infringe his privacy in the absence of any overriding public interest justification and that this infringement was unwarranted.”

Central to the decision was Ofcom’s finding that the teacher’s occupation was not a fact that was in the public domain and therefore its revelation required some public interest justification.

However, the decision contains no discussion as to whether the complainant could have any reasonable expectation of privacy as to the identification of his occupation. Equally, there was no apparent consideration of the interviewee’s rights of freedom of expression. For these reasons, the decision stands at odds with privacy decisions both of the Press Complaints Commission and the Courts and represents a worrying development for broadcasters.