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Privacy and media intrusion during flooding

This advice applies to Scotland

Major flooding events often attract media attention. Journalists may ask you for interviews, permission to take photographs or to film you and your home.

You may be happy to give permission for photographs or video to be taken of you and your home. For example, you may want to raise awareness of flooding as an issue and highlight the damage caused. However, it is worth thinking about the following before you give permission:

  • will the photographs or video be available online? If so, they can be very difficult to have removed in the future 
  • potential buyers may be able to find the videos and photographs if you try to sell your home
  • are you happy to be identified in national news? You may want to ask the broadcaster to protect your identity
  • giving permission for photographs or interviews may result in further media attention

How to deal with unwanted media attention

If you clearly ask a journalist to stop questioning, contacting or photographing you, the Independent Press Standards Organisation’s (IPSO) code of practice requires them to stop unless there is a clear public interest in continuing.

There is advice for dealing with harassment by journalists on the IPSO website.

IPSO also operates a 24 hour harassment helpline on 07799 903929. This should be used in an emergency only. 

Media codes of practice

All newspapers and magazines must follow the Independent Press Standards Organisation’s code of practice. However, a publication may be allowed to breach any term of the code if this can be shown to be in the public interest. The full code of practice can be viewed on the IPSO website.

The Code includes the following terms relating to privacy and harassment:

  • everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, health and correspondence
  • journalists and photographers must not obtain information or pictures through intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit
  • individuals must not be photographed in private places without their consent
  • journalists must not persist in telephoning, questioning, pursuing or photographing individuals after having been asked to desist, must not remain on their property after having been asked to leave and must not follow them
  • journalists must not obtain material, or publish material obtained, by using hidden cameras or secret listening devices, or by intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, emails or messages
  • the press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative references to an individual's race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or illness or disability and details of these (except gender) must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story
  • journalists must not generally obtain or seek to obtain information or pictures through misrepresentation 

If you feel that the code of practice has been breached, you can make a complaint to IPSO

What to do if your privacy has been infringed by the media

If you believe your privacy has been infringed by the media, you may have the following options:

  • complain direct to the publication or to the broadcaster
  • if the complaint is about the broadcast media, complain to OFCOM
  • if the complaint is about a newspaper or magazine, complain to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO)
  • take legal action for compensation or, in some cases, an interdict to prevent publication

Complain to the publication or to the broadcaster 

Most major broadcasts have complaints procedures. You should be able to find information about this on their website. They may apologise, publish an amended account or publish a retraction. If you need help writing to the broadcaster, contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau

Complain to OFCOM about a broadcast

If you think you or someone you know has had their privacy infringed by a broadcast, you can complain to OFCOM. The complaint should be made within 20 days of the broadcast.

Complaints can be made on the webform available on OFCOM’s website.

OFCOM’s decision will be published in Ofcom’s Broadcast Bulletin on its website. It may also tell the broadcaster to broadcast a summary of the decision. It cannot order the broadcaster to provide compensation or an apology, but if the complaint is upheld you will have a formal acknowledgement that your privacy was breached.

Complain to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO)

Where the complaint concerns the press and the complaint has not been adequately dealt with by the publication concerned, you can make a complaint to IPSO about a breach of the IPSO Code of Practice.

The IPSO complaints procedure is free and you don't need a solicitor. The alternative of taking the matter to court may be costly, but you may get legal aid in some cases. However, unlike the courts, the IPSO cannot award compensation. If IPSO decides that the code of practice has been breached, it can require the decision and/or a correction to be published.

Exceptions to some terms of the IPSO Code of Practice may be allowed if the editor of the publication can show that what they did is in the public interest. The public interest includes:

  • detecting or exposing crime or a serious misdemeanour
  • protecting public health or safety
  • preventing the public being misled by some statement or action of an individual or an organisation

If your privacy has been infringed by the media you may have grounds for action under one or more of the following:

  • Protection from Harassment Act 1997
  • copyright law
  • the law of defamation

If you are considering court action you will need specialist legal advice from a solicitor. Advice may also be sought from MediaWise. Civil legal aid may be available. See Help with legal costs for more information.

Asking for images and video to be removed from a search engine or a website

To have images or videos of you or your home removed from a website, you will most likely need to contact the owner of the website. The owner of the website is called the webmaster. There is more information on the Google Support website about how to remove an image from popular search engines and tips for how to contact a website’s webmaster.

The webmaster does not have to agree to your request. If the image is hosted on several different websites, you may need to try to contact each webmaster.

Other help

MediaWise Trust

The MediaWise Trust is an independent media ethics charity which was set up by victims of media abuse. It provides advice and assistance to individuals whose rights may have been breached by media intrusion and may provide representation in exceptional cases. 

MediaWise Trust
University of the West of England
Canon Kitson
Oldbury Court Road
BS16 2JP

Tel: 0117 93 99 333
Fax: 0117 902 9916

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