Privacy and media intrusion during flooding

This advice applies to Scotland. See advice for See advice for England, See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Wales

Major floods often attract media attention. Journalists might ask you for interviews, permission to take photos or to film you and your home.

Before you agree to photos or interviews

You might be happy to give permission for photos or videos to be taken of you and your home. For example, you might want to raise awareness of flooding as an issue and highlight the damage caused.

However, it's worth thinking about the following before you give permission:

  • will the photos or videos be available online? If so, it can be very difficult to get them removed in the future

  • potential buyers might be able to find the videos and photos if you try to sell your home

  • are you happy to be identified in national news? You might want to ask the broadcaster to protect your identity

  • giving permission for photos or interviews might result in further media attention.

How to deal with unwanted media attention

If you clearly ask a journalist to stop questioning, contacting or photographing you, the Independent Press Standards Organisation’s (IPSO) code of practice requires them to stop unless there's a clear public interest in continuing.

There's advice for dealing with harassment by journalists on the IPSO website.

IPSO also operates a 24-hour harassment helpline on 07799 903929. This should be used in an emergency only.

Media code of practice

All newspapers and magazines must follow the Independent Press Standards Organisation’s code of practice. However, a publication might be allowed to breach any term of the code if this can be shown to be in the public interest.

You can read the full code of practice on the IPSO website.

The code includes the following terms relating to privacy and harassment:

  • everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, health and correspondence

  • journalists and photographers must not obtain information or pictures through intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit

  • individuals must not be photographed in private places without their consent

  • journalists must not persist in telephoning, questioning, pursuing or photographing individuals after having been asked to desist, must not remain on their property after having been asked to leave and must not follow them

  • journalists must not obtain material, or publish material obtained, by using hidden cameras or secret listening devices, or by intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, emails or messages

  • the press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative references to an individual's race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or illness or disability and details of these (except gender) must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story

  • journalists must not generally obtain or seek to obtain information or pictures through misrepresentation.

If you feel that the code of practice has been breached, you can make a complaint to IPSO.

What to do if the media has infringed your privacy

If you believe the media has infringed your privacy, you might have the following options:

  • complain directly to the publication or broadcaster

  • if the complaint is about the broadcast media, complain to OFCOM

  • if the complaint is about a newspaper or magazine, complain to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO)

  • take legal action for compensation or, in some cases, an interdict to prevent publication.

Complain to the publication or broadcaster

Most major broadcasts have complaints procedures. You should be able to find information about this on their website. They might apologise, publish an amended account or publish a retraction.

If you need help writing to the broadcaster, contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

Complain to OFCOM about a broadcast

If you think you or someone you know has had their privacy infringed by a broadcast, you can complain to OFCOM. The complaint should be made within 20 days of the broadcast.

You can make a complaint using the form available on OFCOM’s website.

OFCOM’s decision will be published in Ofcom’s Broadcast Bulletin on its website. It might also tell the broadcaster to broadcast a summary of the decision. It cannot order the broadcaster to provide compensation or an apology, but if the complaint is upheld you will have a formal acknowledgement that your privacy was breached.

Complain to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO)

If a complaint about the press has not been adequately dealt with by the publication, you can complain to IPSO about a breach of the IPSO code of practice.

The IPSO complaints procedure is free and you don't need a solicitor. The alternative of taking the matter to court might be costly, but you might get legal aid in some cases.

However, unlike the courts, the IPSO cannot award compensation. If the IPSO decides that the code of practice has been breached, it can require the decision and/or a correction to be published.

Exceptions to some terms of the IPSO code of practice might be allowed if the editor of the publication can show that what they did is in the public interest. The public interest includes:

  • detecting or exposing crime or a serious misdemeanour

  • protecting public health or safety

  • preventing the public being misled by some statement or action of an individual or an organisation.

If the media has infringed your privacy, you might have grounds for action under one or more of the following:

  • the Protection from Harassment Act 1997

  • copyright law

  • the law of defamation.

If you're considering court action, you'll need specialist legal advice from a solicitor. You can also get advice from MediaWise. Civil legal aid might be available.

Read about help with legal costs for more information.

Asking for images and video to be removed from a search engine or a website

To have images or videos of you or your home removed from a website, you'll most likely need to contact the website owner. The website owner is called the webmaster.

There's more information about how to remove an image from popular search engines and tips for how to contact a webmaster on the Google Support website.

The webmaster does not have to agree to your request. If the image is hosted on several different websites, you might need to try to contact each webmaster.


The MediaWise Trust is an independent media ethics charity that was set up by victims of media abuse. It provides advice and assistance to individuals whose rights might have been breached by media intrusion and might provide representation in exceptional cases.

MediaWise Trust

University of the West of England

Canon Kitson

Oldbury Court Road


BS16 2JP

Tel: 0117 93 99 333

Fax: 0117 902 9916