Key rulings 2010

Undercover reporting

The Commission ruled against the Sunday World newspaper in July 2010 for its use of undercover reporting of a sex event organised by an individual in Northern Ireland. The individual was concerned at the manner in which the newspaper had obtained its material for publication, questioning the use of subterfuge to investigate his (legal) business activities: the newspaper's coverage included stills from footage shot using a hidden camera by an undercover reporter who had attended part of one event. He also said that various claims made by the newspaper (including that he charged an entrance fee for people to attend the events and made 'big money' from them) were untrue.

In response, the newspaper argued that the coverage could be justifi ed in the public interest: a senior medical officer had claimed that the participants were at risk from sexually-transmitted infections.

In its ruling, the Commission made clear that - while the newspaper was entitled to report on, and comment robustly about, the sex industry in its local area - it was 'not free to pursue any journalistic approach to do so'. The filming and the published images constituted a 'serious intrusion' which required a high level of public interest to justify. In the Commission's view, the defence put forward by the newspaper could not justify the use of the hidden camera: the newspaper could have exposed the existence of the sex parties (and any attendant health risks) without undercover footage of this type. The Commission also found a breach of Clause 1.