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UK press body raps paper over online video

Breached pupils' right to privacy

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The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has issued its first ever ruling on video content published online by a newspaper. It said the Hamilton Advertiser breached school pupils' rights to privacy with a video of an unruly classroom.

The newspaper published the unedited video on its website, which the PCC ruled invaded the right to privacy of the pupils who were identifiable from the film. The PCC's remit was extended just this year to include editorial audio-visual content published by newspapers, and this is the first use of those powers.

A 16-year-old student at the John Ogilvie High School in Lanarkshire received a poor report in mathematics. She videod an unruly classroom on her mobile phone to show her parents as an explanation of her poor results.

Her story appeared in The Sun, The Daily Mirror and the Hamilton Advertiser, and was the subject of complaints by Laura Gaddis, the president of the school's parent teacher association.

Gaddis said the article published in the newspaper and the publication of the video breached the PCC Code of Practice because neither the school authorities nor the children or their parents had given permission for filming to take place or for publication of the film to take place. She also said that no contact had been made with the school in relation to the article.

The PCC said demonstrating a discipline problem in a school was in the public interest. "The subject matter of the story – that classroom discipline was allegedly so lax that it was affecting pupil performance – was clearly one of considerable public interest, and to a large degree the video provided the evidence to support the girl's position about her teaching conditions," said its ruling.

"It was therefore entirely legitimate for the paper to bring conditions in the classroom to public attention, and to use – at least in part – the information contained in the video."

It said that The Mirror obscured the faces of children in the still photographs it published and The Sun's image quality was so poor that no pupils could be identified, and so those papers had not breached the Code.

The Hamilton Advertiser, though, had erred in posting the video online without obscuring the children's identities, it said.

"The newspaper had a responsibility to ensure that the material it published did not infringe the rights of the pupils appearing in the footage, some of whom were clearly identifiable. They had not known they were going to feature in the newspaper and on its website, and there had been no consent for publication," it said.

"While the newspaper had argued that obscuring the faces would have undermined the impact of the story, the [PCC] Commission considered that any public interest in identifying the pupils was not so great as to override their rights under the Code," it said.

The PCC said that the publishing of the material represented an unnecessary intrusion into their time at school, in breach of its Code.

The PCC began regulating the multimedia web content belonging to member newspapers in February of this year. It does not have a remit over user-submitted material, only that which it considers to fall under the editorial control of the newspaper publisher.

Copyright © 2007, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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