The New Zealand Press Council has sent a timely reminder to the news media to check how they use photos taken from social media in news stories.
A family who lost a daughter in a tramping accident in January 2016 complained to the Press Council, claiming the newspaper had breached Principle 2 – the privacy principle - of the Press Council’s statement of principles.
The family directed its privacy complaint to the Press Council because the media exclusion in the Privacy Act means the Privacy Commissioner cannot investigate privacy complaints about the news media.
The family’s complaint arose from an article about the tramping accident which was published by The Press on January 6. The article included a photograph of the victim copied from her Facebook page, as well as her name, age, occupation and her employer.
Reporters from The Press also attempted twice to contact a family member. This was despite a Police media statement that “the victim's family are naturally grieving so Police and Victim Support urge media to give them privacy at this time".
In its decision, the Press Council said “the uninvited intrusion by the media caused the family enormous additional distress and the time and energy required to cope with it had a detrimental effect on their ability to cope with their loss”.
The Deputy Editor of The Press, Kamala Hayman, explained that a senior reporter had been assigned to contact the family because the newspaper believed it would be disrespectful to publish the article without giving family members a chance to comment.
Ms Hayman said the privacy request in the Police media release was a standard sentence and did not indicate the family had asked not to be contacted. Ms Hayman subsequently arranged for the photograph of the victim to be removed from the Stuff website.
The Press Council said the family was entitled to the protection of Principle 2 under the ‘grief and trauma’ clause. While photographs on an open Facebook page could be regarded as publicly available, this did not exempt a publication from its obligations under the privacy principle to give special consideration for those suffering from trauma or grief.
The complaint was upheld.
Police appear to be committed to making sure the news media get the message that grieving families have a right to left alone by reporters. In a more recent case involving the death of a Patea truck driver, a Police media release relayed a privacy request from the driver’s family.
The Police media release said the family had expressly requested that their privacy be respected and had advised Police they did not want to be contacted by any news media.