U.K. Press Watchdog Issues Fresh Guidance on Privacy Rules

7:54 AM PST 11/15/2012 by Stuart Kemp
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The Press Complaints Commission updates rules after the publication in August of naked photographs of Prince Harry taken while partying in Las Vegas.

LONDON – The Press Complaints Commission (PCC), the U.K. self-regulatory press watchdog, issued fresh guidance on privacy Thursday following the publication in August of naked photographs of Prince Harry taken in Las Vegas.

The publication of the pictures in The Sun, the tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp sparked more than 3,500 complaints from the British public at the time.

But despite the level of complaints, the PCC concluded it would be "inappropriate" for it to investigate the matter formally because of the lack of a formal complaint from the Prince's representatives about the U.K. publication of the shots.

STORY: Thousands of Complaints Filed Against Sun's Publication of Naked Prince Harry Pictures

But Thursday the PCC said the publication of the shot of the Prince partying hard in Vegas "raised an issue that has been growing in importance with the increasing use of social media as a means of communication by the general public and as a journalistic tool," after the pictures themselves had originally surfaced online before The Sun printed them.

The Commission said it has produced guidance designed to provide practical advice to editors and journalists "when considering whether or not to publish material that has entered the public domain," based on the PCC's previous decisions in this area.

The PCC's clause three of its code relating to privacy makes clear that when considering complaints about possible intrusions into privacy, "account will be taken of the complainant's public disclosures of information".

The Code also requires the Commission to "consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain, or will become so" when assessing possible public interest exceptions to the terms of the Code.

The guidance also outlines a number of factors which the Commission will take account of when considering complaints of this kind, including: the nature of the material; the extent to which it has previously been published (including online); the context in which the publication has presented the republished material; and any public interest in publication. It includes summaries of a number of relevant rulings, as well as a checklist of questions for editors to consider.

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Charlotte Dewar, PCC head of complaints and pre-publication services, said: "The Code requires that editors justify any intrusion into an individual's private life without consent. It is important that editors understand that caution needs to be used whenever they are considering publishing potentially intrusive material, even if it has previously been published elsewhere - and particularly if the previous publication has occurred without the individual's consent."

The PCC is itself to close in the coming months after it was deemed to have been damaged beyond repair from its response to the phone-hacking scandal that engulfed Murdoch’s newspaper publishing division News International and the wider U.K. print media industry.

The long-term replacement for the PCC is not expected to be up and running for at least a year and may not be in place until 2014 if laws are needed to be installed in terms of libel resolution and the like.

Whatever replaces it will also be shaped by the upcoming publication of the Leveson Inquiry, the investigation into media ethics and standards, due in the coming weeks.

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