Update from the Complaints Desk: A snapshot of complaints about published images

While most complaints relate to specific statements contained in a story, sometimes the NNC will hear from individuals concerned about other elements of a piece, including the photographs used. As with any journalistic content, there are standards and best practices surrounding the publication of images. Below are some of the complaints that the NNC assessed that dealt with concerns about photos.

News organizations take care when sharing images of tragic accidents

An individual filed a complaint stating concern about sensitive images used in a news story. The article reported on a fatal collision and showed photographs of the damaged vehicle, including a close-up of a car engine leaking oil on the road which, the complainant argued, looked like blood. In response to reader concerns, the news organization published an editorial outlining its reasons for reporting on accidents but also noting changes to how it will cover such stories in the future, including how the main image for a story will focus on the action of first responders.

On review of the article in question, the NNC observed that the images did not show any blood or any aspect of the victim. At the same time, the NNC supports the news organization’s steps to present such stories with more sensitivity and to communicate those changes to readers. For these reasons, the NNC considered the matter resolved due to corrective action. (Case ID: 2022-41)

Removal of ‘unflattering’ photos are not part of the NNC’s mandate

An individual approached the NNC with concern that an article published more than two years ago contained unflattering images of her. The article in question reported her missing. A subsequent article reported that she had been located.

Journalism plays an important role in communicating relevant information to the wider community, which may have an impact on individuals’ safety. At the same time, the NNC supports the best practice of updating articles with information about the outcome of cases, including missing persons cases.

As a matter of process, the NNC generally deals with articles published no more than a month before the complaint was filed, and only accepts complaints after the individual has tried to resolve the matter with the news organization directly, which was not done in this case. Importantly, the NNC does not deal with matters of taste or assess appropriateness of images based on whether the individual photographed feels they are favourable, as that is a matter of personal preference and not a matter of journalistic standards.

While the NNC declined to take further action on the complaint based on the reasons mentioned, it recognizes that coverage of missing persons is not without its challenges for newsrooms. For this reason, the NNC supports newsroom discussions on how to cover such stories accurately and equitably, as well as steps taken to limit undue harm to individuals and to ensure that decisions surrounding such stories do not disproportionately affect marginalized groups. (Case ID: 2022-45)

Real information about property and estate photographs: Sourcing and publishing photos in real estate coverage

A real estate agent contacted the NNC stating concern that images of their client’s house were featured as part of a property feature and felt that it was an invasion of their privacy.

The NNC pointed out that, generally speaking, much of the information about housing sales is accessible publicly, and that real estate agents often play an important role in providing additional information as part of their marketing plans. The NNC also noted that journalists may review submissions from agents, conduct interviews, and undertake research from sources of publicly-available information.

The news organization informed the complainant that real estate articles are a matter of public interest, crafted with publicly available information, including photos publicly available on real estate websites. The news organization noted that they are considered fair use, as long as credit is given to the source, which was done in this particular case.

Upon review, the NNC noted that the examples of properties listed in the story were organized and identified by neighbourhood— not by specific street addresses. With regards to the complainant’s concerns about the use of photographs, the NNC noted that appropriate credit was given to the source. For these reasons, the NNC found no grounds to support a breach of journalistic standards in this case. (Case ID: 2022-61)