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  5. Why IPSO picture ruling could increase need for pixelation

Jutting crop

It is a common image that has been used by newspapers for as long as I can remember. It involves a photograph of an accused or guilty person, taken in his distant or sometimes wilder days. It invariably contains other individuals in a group shot. The rise of social media sites has made photos like this common place. Except a recent IPSO decision will consign such pictures to the history book.

Clémentine Bobin complained to IPSO that The Times had breached Clause 9 (Reporting of crime) in an article headlined “Banker left glamour model for new life”. The article contrasted the student days in England of Rurik Jutting with the circumstances of his arrest for murder in Hong Kong. It was accompanied by three photographs, the largest of which depicted Mr Jutting standing next to Bobin with his arm around her, captioned as “Rurik Jutting as a Cambridge student at 21, with a friend”. The other photographs showed one of his alleged victims and a former girlfriend.

The photograph had been taken in 2006, when Bobin was a young co-worker of Mr Jutting, after which period she had had no contact with him. Although it had not named her, it had clearly identified her to friends, family and colleagues, which was intrusive and upsetting.

The Times argued that in light of the allegations against Mr Jutting, there was a public interest in examining his life; the photograph served to illustrate the apparent transformation of his circumstances. The caption referred to Bobin’s past connection to Mr Jutting, but she did not remain his “friend”.

Clause 9 of the Code states that relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story.

IPSO held that regardless of the true nature of their connection, the caption to the large and prominent photograph described Bobin as a “friend” of Mr Jutting. The article asserted a direct association between Bobin and Mr Jutting, in a manner that squarely engaged the terms of Clause 9.

Accordingly to avoid a breach of the Code, the Times needed to show it was justified in identifying Bobin, either because she was genuinely relevant to the story, or because – regardless of her relevance – there was a public interest which justified publication.   In upholding the complaint IPSO held that the article had made no reference to her, and she was plainly not personally relevant to the story. No public interest could reasonably be regarded as justifying the intrusion into her life caused by so prominently and publicly associating her with an alleged criminal.

What is perhaps most alarming from a publisher’s perspective is that IPSO reached this decision despite holding that the Times hadn’t breached clause 3 of the Code relating to privacy. Bobin had no reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the picture that had been published on a Facebook page

I suspect that in future cases, which might involve a breach of clause 9, that rather than try and justify public interest, the newspapers’ pixilation departments will become busier airbrushing friends out of history.