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Televised Eviction Couple Win £20,000 for Privacy Violation

The media has important freedom of expression rights and is entitled to report events in the public interest – but that must be balanced against individual rights to privacy. In one case on point, a television company overstepped the mark when it filmed a couple being evicted from their home and was ordered to pay them £20,000 in damages.

A writ of possession had been issued against the couple in respect of alleged rent arrears. Without warning, High Court enforcement agents had appeared on their doorstep, accompanied by a television crew. Footage of their eviction was later broadcast to 9.65 million viewers on national television. The programme’s tenor was to depict the man as a tenant from hell and his wife as very stroppy.

In upholding the couple’s claim that their human right to respect for their privacy and family life had been violated, the High Court noted that the programme was largely filmed in their home and showed them in a state of shock and distress after the eviction took them wholly by surprise.

Although the programme contributed to a debate of general interest, the television crew’s primary objective was to focus on the drama of the incident in order to create ‘good television’. In the circumstances, the television company had exceeded the ambit of its freedom of expression rights and was ordered to compensate the couple for the distress they suffered. They were awarded £10,000 each.

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