PCC rules on roadside privacy and court reporting

Adjudications on accident photographs and fact/conjecture

The Press Complaints Commission today ruled on two topics of daily relevance to newspapers, the coverage of accidents in public places and the reporting of criminal proceedings.

In the first ruling the PCC considered coverage of a road accident by a local newspaper. The complainant’s mother-in-law was photographed receiving emergency medical treatment in the aftermath of a road accident. The subject was clearly identifiable in the photograph published, although a later article the following day had obscured her image. The image complained about was published online, rather than in the newspaper.

Finding a breach of clauses 3 (privacy) and 5 (intrusion into grief) of the code, the PCC warned that caution is needed where a newspaper publishes images relating to a person’s health or medical treatment, even if the treatment may be given in a public place. A distinction was drawn however with large-scale events such as natural disasters and terrorist attacks where it might be appropriate in view of the public interest to show such images without consent of those photographed.

In the second adjudication a complaint was upheld where a matter which was conjecture and a submission made by the defence in criminal proceedings was reported as fact in a court report. The newspaper reported that the complainant’s son – who was subsequently murdered – had behaved aggressively towards his landlord’s wife. The PCC upheld the complaint, finding a breach of clause 1 (accuracy), noting that the original court reporter’s copy had qualified these statements with the word ‘allegedly’, which was omitted from the published report.