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PCC chair addresses issue of privacy in online media

The Press Complaints Commission is best placed to regulate the press in relation to privacy and online media, chairman Baroness Buscombe said today.

Speaking at the Westminster Media Forum Buscombe said:

Regulating online content is challenging. Let me pose the difficult question: what does privacy mean in an online world? There is an argument – with which Mark Zuckerberg might agree – that it means hardly anything at all these days. People have adopted a public persona online; they have developed a culture of information exchange such that privacy will lapse as a “social norm”.

Perhaps. But that doesn’t quite ring true to me.

An opposing argument would be that the online world gives people the chance actually better to define what they wish to be private: via privacy settings on Facebook, say, they can make clear to the world what information is for public consumption, and what they wish to restrict to a smaller audience.

In truth, there will be no clear answer. People will use social media in different ways, and with clear differences in their level of understanding of the implications of their actions.

What is clear is that journalists – both print and broadcast – now have the outpourings of non-journalists as a resource of information. And it is important that there are ethical guidelines about how to use that information. We believe at the PCC that we are able to provide them. We believe that a voluntary Code, reinforced by practical guidance from case law, is a model for maintaining standards in this area.

The PCC chairman cited examples of photographs and information taken from Facebook and Twitter and used in the press, reminding the audience of the PCC’s five key tests when it comes to using material gained via social media.

  • First, what is the quality of the information? How private is it in itself?
  • Second, what is the context of the information? Material that has been uploaded as a joke between friends, for example, may not be suitable for journalistic use in a story about a tragedy.
  • Who uploaded the material, or consented for it to be uploaded?
  • How widely available is the material online; or, to put it another way, what privacy restrictions were placed on it?
  • And finally what is the public interest in publication?

The full speech is available at this link…

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