PCC found wanting by the consumer

It was reported on 6 June that Sarah Cox had settled her privacy claim against the People for £50,000 in damages, plus £200,000 legal costs. The People had published nude photographs of Sarah Cox and her new husband while they were on honeymoon in the Seychelles. The photographs showed the Radio One DJ and her Club DJ husband at their villa and on the beach.

Roy Greenslade, writing in the Guardian, the day after the settlement was announced, commented that the decision by Sarah Cox to follow a successful sortie to the Press Complaints Commission for the very limited remedy which that provided with fully blown legal proceedings further undermined the credibility of the Press Complaints Commission. If it cannot provide a remedy which the punter thinks adequate, then how can it present itself as an effective form of self regulation?

The Press Complaints Commission has been tested and found wanting in two respects concerning Ms Cox. The first is that despite the clear terms of the agreed Code of Practice, the photographs were published by the People, whose editor was actually a member of the Press Complaints Commission. The Code could hardly be clearer on the subject of privacy:

  1. Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence. A publication will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual’s private life without consent.
  2. The use of long lens photography to take pictures of people in private places without their consent is unacceptable.

Note – private places are public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Nude photographs of Ms Cox and her husband taken using a long lens while they were on private property were the clearest possible breach of the Code. The first failure of the system was to allow the photographs to be published in the first place.

The second failure of the self-regulatory system was to place Ms Cox in a position where both a photographic agency and a national newspaper had profited from the newspaper’s breach of the Code, invading her privacy and causing her distress and embarrassment, in circumstances where the self-regulatory procedure neither penalises the transgressor in any way which really impacts (ie financially), nor compensates the victim.

It comes as no surprise then that an aggrieved complainant has looked beyond the Press Complaints Commission for the kind of financial remedy which was clearly appropriate in the circumstances, but which the Commission has chosen by its terms of reference not to be able to offer.

Bulletins are for general guidance only. Legal advice should be sought before taking action in relation to specific matters. Where reference is made to Court decisions facts referred to are those reported as found by the Court. Please note that past bulletins included in the Archive have not been updated by any subsequent changes in statute or case law.