Section 7: Privacy - Introduction

Section 7.1

Print this Section

Printiwch y rhan hon yn Gymraeg

The BBC respects privacy and does not infringe it without good reason, wherever in the world we operate. The Human Rights Act 1998 gives protection to the privacy of individuals, and private information about them, but balances that with a broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression. In regulation, the Ofcom Broadcasting Code [1] states 'Any infringement of privacy in programmes, or in connection with obtaining material included in programmes, must be warranted.'[2]

Meeting these ethical, regulatory and legal obligations in our output requires consideration of the balance between privacy and our right to broadcast information in the public interest. We must be able to demonstrate why an infringement of privacy is justified, and, when using the public interest to justify an infringement, consideration should be given to proportionality; the greater the intrusion, the greater the public interest required to justify it.

(See Section 1 The BBC’s Editorial Standards: 1.3)

An infringement of privacy is considered in two stages, requiring justifications for both the gathering and the broadcasting of material where there is a legitimate expectation of privacy.

Legitimate Expectations of Privacy

Legitimate expectations of privacy will vary according to the place and nature of the information, activity or condition in question, the extent to which it is in the public domain (if at all) and whether the individual concerned is already in the public eye. There may be circumstances where people can reasonably expect privacy even in a public place. Some activities and conditions may be of such a private nature that filming or recording, even in a public place, could involve an infringement of privacy. People under investigation or in the public eye, and their immediate family and friends, retain the right to a private life, although private behaviour can raise issues of legitimate public interest.

We must balance the public interest in freedom of expression with the legitimate expectation of privacy by individuals. Any infringement of privacy in the gathering of material should be justifiable as proportionate in the circumstances of each case.

We must be able to justify an infringement of an individual’s privacy without their consent by demonstrating that the intrusion is outweighed by the public interest.

We normally only report the private behaviour of public figures where their conduct is unlawful or where broader public issues are raised either by the behaviour itself or by the consequences of its becoming widely known. The fact of publication by other media may not justify our reporting of it.

We must balance the public interest in the full and accurate reporting of stories involving human suffering and distress with an individual’s privacy and respect for their human dignity.

When gathering personal information from contributors, audiences and other members of the public, we must be clear about how we intend to use it. It must be handled in accordance with these Guidelines and the BBC’s Data Protection Handbook. Take advice from the BBC Data Protection Officer.

[1] The section of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code that relates to this is 8: Privacy.

[2] Rule 8.1, The Ofcom Broadcasting Code. 

Where next?