IPSO upholds privacy complaint against blackpoolgazette.co.uk

Regulator Independent Press Standards Organisation rules website breached woman's privacy

Thursday, 21st October 2021, 11:12 am

Following an article published on November 26, 2020 headlined “Staff member tests positive for coronavirus at Poulton school”, a woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) that blackpoolgazette.co.uk had intruded into her privacy in breach of Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. IPSO upheld the complaint and has required blackpoolgazette.co.uk to publish this decision as a remedy to the breach.

The online article, which was also shared on social media, reported that a class bubble at a named school had been told to self-isolate for 14 days after “a staff member in a Year One class” tested positive for Covid-19.

Whilst the article did not name the complainant, she considered herself to be readily identifiable from the information included within it, both to members of the school community and the wider community. She said that the article went further than the statement issued by the headteacher of the school which stated that “a member of the school community” had tested positive for Covid-19. She believed that this amounted to an intrusion into her private life as she had a reasonable expectation of privacy over the state of her health, in breach of Clause 2.

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The newspaper denied that the article intruded into the complainant’s privacy. It disagreed that she could be identified by those outside the school’s community. In addition, the publication cited a clear public interest in reporting on positive Covid-19 cases to its readers and alerting them to potential risks.

The Committee found the article included sufficient information to identify the complainant as the recipient of the positive test result. This was medical information relating to the complainant’s health in respect of which she had a reasonable expectation of privacy. Nonetheless, the Committees recognised that this had to be balanced with the public health considerations arising from a global pandemic of a highly infectious virus. Whilst the newspaper was entitled to make its own assessment about what was in the public interest, the Committee found that the newspaper had not provided sufficient justification for its decision to include additional information about the complainant’s role in the school by which she could be identified. In the view of the Committee, the article amounted to an intrusion into the complainant’s private life by publishing, without consent, private medical information. There was a breach of Clause 2 of the Editors’ Code.

The full ruling can be read here