Radio station breaches privacy rights when Leeds United Chair disclose personal information during broadcast

April 11, 2013 |

Yorkshire radio was found to have breached the privacy rights of a footballer when it allowed the Chairman of Leeds United, Ken Bates, to disclose personal information about a fan without his consent.

The ruling by Ofcam runs to 123 pages and is found here.

In two interviews broadcast live by Yorkshire Radio in February 2012, Bates had reacted to criticism that had been levelled at the management of Leeds United by LUS Trust, headed by Gary Cooper.  Bates:

  1.  said he looked up the club’s computer systems to check Cooper’s attendance record at matches and said that he had found evidence that Cooper had not attended any games during the previous season and that Cooper had informed him that this was down to “family commitments”. Bates questioned whether Cooper’s attendance record made him a “justified or qualified” spokesperson for the “ordinary fan”.
  2. revealed that he understood Cooper to be an IT technician and that, as a result, Cooper had “never had to run a business and make a profit and be accountable”.

Ofcom found that Bates was “in a position to be able to exert a degree of influence or control over the radio station” and that he was a “central and influential figure in the management structure of Yorkshire Radio at the time the programmes were broadcast”. This was because Bates, with his wife, owned the majority shareholding in a business that itself owned 95% of Yorkshire Radio at the time of the broadcasts.

Ofcom said, not surprisingly, that individuals whose details are stored on a database for a specific purpose would generally have “an expectation” that the information would not be accessed for the purpose of discrediting them.   While information about Cooper’s attendance record at matches was “not information that could be reasonably considered as being particularly sensitive or private in nature”, it was not “readily available” and was still personal data on a database to which Cooper had a “legitimate expectation of privacy”. This expectation of privacy was “warranted” because the radio station’s competing right to freedom of expression did not outweigh it.

Not surprisingly Ofcom found that Bates had unfairly exploited his position at Leeds United to obtain the information about Cooper from the club’s database in order to use it to discredit Cooper.

Using private information to bolster a debating point, if not throw mud, is an egregious breach of privacy.

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