Publishing reader’s email on newspaper letters page was breach of privacy, rules press watchdog

A local newspaper has fallen foul of Australia’s press watchdog after a reader complained that when she responded to an invitation to send in her views she was surprised to find them in print on the letters page.

The ruling against News Corp’s local freesheet The Manningham Leader followed the newspaper publishing a callout to readers asking for them to share views on Victorian bus services which it promised to make heard in the corridors of Melbourne’s Parliament House.

The callout stated: “Now we have to make sure Spring St hears the message, so tell us what you think. Email, write letters or comment on our Facebook page. And we’ll tell the Government. Loud and clear. And for free.”

Reader Jacqui Nettur emailed in, complaining about the lack of buses, and telling the newspaper: “Thanks for giving Manningham residents a voice”.

Editor’s note: The image of Ms Nettur’s ‘letter of the week’ has been removed after a request from the Australian Press Council

Her email was published as letter of the week.

Nettur complained to the Australian Press Council that she had thought the email would be privately be passed along to the government on her behalf.

The APC investigation stated:

“The complainant said the article did not indicate that her response would be published, and implied the comments received by the publication would be collected and provided to the government in an effort to lobby on the community’s behalf.”

“The complainant said her email was published as a letter to the editor without notice or consent, and provided her first and last name, details of her daily commute, and the suburb in which she lives. The complainant said consent should not simply be inferred from her contacting the publication. She said she takes great care to maintain her privacy, and this has been compromised by the publication of these details, particularly given her distinct surname.”

But the Manningham Leader argued that the publication was an honest misunderstanding,as the writer had not indicated tht she did not want to go public when she sent in the email to the newspaper.

According to the APC: “The publication said the email was not marked ‘not for publication’, there was no indication the complainant did not want her name to be used or did not intend the email for anyone other than the publication, and it had no reason to believe the complainant did not want her letter published.

“It said the complainant would have been aware it is a publication that publishes letters and comments submitted to it, and that it aims to give a voice to people by publishing views and opinions from the public so decision makers can become aware of public sentiment; to just pass on a batch of submitted letters to the government would be futile. The publication said the original article’s call for letters followed the form and spirit of the words it has used for decades.”

However, the APC upheld the complaint saying: “The Council concludes that the publication did not take reasonable steps to avoid intruding on the complainant’s reasonable expectations of privacy, and there was no public interest justifying doing so, in particular, publishing the email without the complainant being notified and giving consent.”

However, it cleared the newspaper of breaking the rules on deceptive behaviour, saying it believed the form of words used was not intended to trick readers into sending in emails that could be published as letters.

This article has been updated with the complained about letter removed following a request from the APC.


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