Saturday 4 May 2013

From 'Arctic gales' to 'scorching sunshine'...

Express, Monday 29 April 2013:

Any hopes of a reprieve for the Bank Holiday were dashed as experts warned wind, rain and bitter temperatures will dampen spirits for much of the UK...

There is even the chance of snow over the hills in the North with everywhere on alert for widespread frosts.

Express, Saturday 4 May 2013:

Britain will be hotter than Bondi Beach as families flock to the coast this Bank Holiday weekend.

EC in UK challenges Mail article on Europol - but paper removes key points from letter

On 19 April, the Daily Mail reported:

The article by Ian Drury began:

British police forces will be forced to hand sensitive details of criminal investigations to Brussels or risk a massive fine.

In a controversial move, the European Union’s crime intelligence agency would be allowed to demand access to private police files.

The EC in the UK rejected the Mail's claims, stating:

The Commission recently proposed limited changes to the way the EU’s law enforcement agency Europol works. The aim is to tackle cross-border crime – for example drug dealing and human trafficking – better.

Many would no doubt conclude that better police cooperation against such major criminal activities would be of major benefit to the UK. But if it does not agree, the UK can decide not to opt-in to the proposals given its general option under the Lisbon Treaty to remain outside EU justice measures.

Despite this, the Daily Mail turned the proposals into an article headlined “EU demands access to British police files”, suggesting that Europol was to be given extensive new powers over Member States and their police forces – not the case – and that it would be able to demand additional data on victims and witnesses. In fact the proposal would significantly increase protection for this kind of data.

The Mail added that police would need to “divert resources from tackling crime to information-gathering for Brussels” and that if police did not comply the UK could face massive fines – simply wrong.

The EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstr̦m explains here what Europol is Рand what it is not.

In an attempt to correct the claims made, the Head of the Commission’s London Representation, Jacqueline Minor, wrote a letter to the paper which said:

The EU is not seeking new powers over Member States for its law enforcement agency Europol (‘EU demands access to British police files’, 19 April).

Member States set up Europol in 1993, to pool resources against major cross-border crime.

There is an existing agreement to supply data to Europol. The European Commission is proposing measures to clarify that and to strengthen democratic oversight and data protection. The aim is to tackle crime better.

The proposal only takes effect if Member States agree. It would not expand access to data on witnesses and victims.

It would not give Europol direct access to national databases – let alone “private police files”. Member States share data they already have, so resources will not be diverted to collecting data for Europol.

Finally, there is nothing in the proposal about fines.

Europol will remain an agency supporting – not usurping – national police forces.

The Mail published a version of the letter but:

in editing the letter – without consultation – the Mail alters its meaning and reduces its force.

This is what the Mail published:

Member States set up Europol in 1993, to pool resources against major cross-border crime. There’s an existing agreement to supply data to Europol.

The European Commission is proposing to clarify that and to strengthen democratic oversight and data protection. This would take effect only if a Member State agrees, and it wouldn’t expand access to data on witnesses and victims. It wouldn’t give Europol direct access to national databases – let alone “private police files”.

There is nothing in the proposal about fines for not supplying data.

The EC notes:

the Mail’s version below omits any mention of the original article and thus deprives the reader of any point of reference. It also omits the important point that resources will not be diverted from police work to collecting data for Europol.

In changing “if Member States agree” to “if a Member State agrees” it also changes the meaning. Member States need to agree collectively on the changes but if they did so then they would take effect everywhere, helping police to prevent crime and catch criminals everywhere – except if the UK (and/or Ireland) decided to invoke its opt out.”

The EC in the UK has complained about the Mail editing letters before, while one MEP couldn't even get her letter, debunking a false Mail story about the EU banning Famous Five books from schools, printed at all.

The PCC and the MailOnline's publication of 'clearly inappropriate' creepshots

On 24 September 2012, MailOnline published an article about 'creepshots' - photographs of females taken without their knowledge (often 'upskirt' photos) - that were taken in a Georgia high school by a teacher and posted on Reddit.

The article admitted the photos 'were taken without the subjects' knowledge' and that the subjects 'are caught unawares by stealthy 'creeps' with cameras'.

It added:

Most shots focus on the buttocks or breasts of non-consenting women going about their daily lives - and users admit that 'at least 40 percent' of the images are of underage girls. 

As this blog noted at the time:

Someone at MailOnline then decided to illustrate the article with FOUR of the creepshot photos the article is complaining about.

There is no justification for publishing any of these images. Indeed, MailOnline has now removed all the photos from the article - albeit, some 15 hours after it was first published - a clear indication it knew this was a serious error...

It admits the photos were taken 'without permission' and yet deems them suitable to publish. It refers to the fact that many of the images are apparently of 'underage girls', yet deems them suitable to publish. Given the faces are covered, MailOnline has no idea how old any of the girls are, yet deems them suitable to publish.

One person contacted the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre about the MailOnline article. Another complained to the PCC. The latter complaint was sent on 25 September.

The PCC replied:

The concerns you have raised relate directly to the unidentified girls in the photographs. Given the nature of your concerns, it may be difficult for the Commission to investigate or understand the matter fully without their involvement.

However, we do appreciate the significance of these issues. In such circumstances, we would often take steps to contact the individuals concerned to make them aware of our services. In this instance, it is clear impossible for us to do so as we cannot identify them. We may therefore have difficulty in pursuing this matter. However, we will ask the Commission to consider whether there are exceptional public interest reasons for it to proceed with an independent complaint. 

One month later, on 29 October, the PCC said:

The Commission has noted carefully your comments about the public interest in pursuing an investigation and it has decided to do so, on an own-volition basis. It will write to the newspaper for its formal response, passing on a copy of your complaint.

The person who made the complaint emailed on 4 January asking for news but received no reply. The PCC did respond to a further email on 7 February - which noted the MailOnline article was still 'live' - but only to say the matter was still under investigation.

No further information was received by the person who made the complaint until 9 April, when the PCC issued its decision. He saw none of the correspondence from the Mail and has no idea what happened in those six months.

The PCC's decision is worth repeating in full:

The Commission investigated, of its own volition, a complaint framed under Clause 3 (Privacy), Clause 6 (Children) and Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge). The Commission noted that the article under complaint had come to its attention because of a third-party complaint it had received from a member of the public concerned about the publication of the images with the article. The Commission had not received any complaint from any individual featured in the story. The Commission recognised the significance of the issues raised by the complaint, however, and had for this reason chosen to investigate the matter of its own volition. Nonetheless, it remained the case that without the involvement of any of the individuals concerned, the Commission faced a significant practical difficulty in making a finding on this case.

The Commission first considered the matter under Clause 3 (Privacy) and Clause 6 (Children).  The complainant said the photographs had apparently been taken without consent and apparently showed pupils at a school, potentially under 16. The complainant made clear that he was concerned about both the censored and uncensored versions of the article. He objected to the publication of the photographs.

The photographs under complaint had been republished by the newspaper from a website on which they had been posted by anonymous users. The faces of the women had not been shown and they were not otherwise readily identifiable. No verifiable information was available about where or when they had been taken.

Clause 3 states that everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life and that it is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent. Under Clause 6, young people should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion; a child under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child’s welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents; and pupils must not be approached or photographed at school without the permission of the school authorities.

The content of the photographs themselves – including the furniture, surroundings, and clothing of those shown in them – suggested that they showed pupils in educational institutions, as the newspaper had clearly accepted. The newspaper’s report quoted one individual who claimed to be a teacher taking photographs of his pupils without their consent. Against this background, the Commission was concerned by the publication of the photographs, and in particular, extremely concerned by their initial – albeit brief – publication in an uncensored state, which was – as the newspaper had immediately accepted – clearly inappropriate in light of the information reported in the story.

Given the nature of this case, the Commission reviewed closely the information provided by the newspaper about the background. It noted the newspaper’s position that the article had been prepared for publication on the US homepage by a US journalist and that the photographs had been left uncensored for several hours due to a “regrettable” error. The newspaper had confirmed that the matter had been raised with the editorial staff concerned to understand how the incident had occurred and to avoid any recurrence. It had instructed its US Picture desk to take greater care to scrutinise photographs of this kind and emphasised that decisions should be referred to line managers before publication to ensure that due consideration has been given to publication and that pixelation has been properly applied where appropriate before pictures can go live on the site. It had also reminded them of their obligations under the Code and noted that abiding by the Code remained a contractual condition of employment contracts for its journalists. During the course of its correspondence with the Commission it had decided to remove the article from its website, in view of the sensitivity of the material.

The Commission acknowledged the measures that had been taken. It noted that the preparation of material for publication online presents particular challenges but emphasised that the Editors’ Code of Practice applies equally to material published in print and online. It emphasised that the newspaper should continue to keep its processes under review, including in relation to staff training, to ensure that such an error would not recur.

It remained the case, however, that the Commission had no direct information about the circumstances in which these particular photographs had been taken. As it had noted, both the context and the photographs themselves strongly suggested that they had showed individuals who were unaware of being photographed, and indeed the newspaper’s report had stated this as fact. Nonetheless, the Commission concluded that it would not be appropriate for it to rule on the potential for intrusion posed by the photographs on the basis of conjecture, however well-founded. The Commission did not issue a ruling under Clause 3 or Clause 6 but it considered that the newspaper’s decision to remove the article from its website was appropriate in the circumstances. The Commission also noted that it would review the matter should it receive a complaint in future from any of the individuals photographed or, alternatively, corroboration of the circumstances in which the photographs had been taken.   

Finally, the Commission considered the complaint under Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge). The terms of Clause 10 set out that the press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices. The Public Interest clause of the Code states that the PCC will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain, or will become so. In this instance, the newspaper was reporting on a matter of controversy involving the publication of material elsewhere on the Internet. This was different from an instance in which the publication or its agents had used clandestine devices or subterfuge to obtain journalistic material for the purpose of publication. The republication of photographs to illustrate a news story on the controversy did not raise a breach of Clause 10.

The PCC's wariness seems slightly strange - it admits the paper had stated the subjects were unaware they were being photographed 'as fact' and admits this is a 'well-founded' view. But the PCC says this is only 'conjecture' and essentially refuses to issue a clear adjudication because of that - despite calling publication of the photos 'clearly inappropriate'. There appears to be no evidence to dispute the claims made about the origins of the photos and, furthermore, the Mail reported on 27 September 2012 - three days after the original article appeared:

A high school substitute teacher has been fired after police say he took pictures of his students without their knowledge and posted them to a perverted website.

The uncensored photos were visible for around 15 hours on MailOnline - it is a matter of opinion as to whether the PCC's description of that as a 'brief' period is fair or accurate.

Moreover, the person who made the complaint noted the article was still up on MailOnline in February - many months after it was first published and the correspondence with the PCC began. It was only after all that time that it seemed concerned about the 'sensitivity of the material'.

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Mail on Sunday corrects minaret claim

A correction from the Mail on Sunday:

An earlier version of this article showed a picture of a mosque with dome and minaret and suggested that such a building might be added to the skyline of Chipping Norton. We would like to make clear that the proposal is for a conversion of an existing shop and there will be no addition to the skyline of Chipping Norton.

Scottish Mail apologises over asylum claims

The Scottish Daily Mail has published the following correction and apology, after a complaint from the Scottish Refugee Council:

In an article on January 25, 2013, headlined: "Crisis as Asylum Seekers target Scotland" we stated that asylum seekers were ‘targeting' Scotland. We now accept that asylum seekers are dispersed by the UK Border Agency on a ‘no choice' basis and would not be able to choose to live in Scotland. With the current rate of asylum applicants to the UK well within the average rate of the past ten years, we also accept that it is misleading to categorise this as a ‘crisis'. We are happy to clarify the position and apologise for the error.

According to the PCC:

The newspaper also agreed to: publish an article regarding the work of the Scottish Refugee Council; hold a meeting with the organisation; and inform editorial staff of the issues and concerns raised at the meeting.