The use of hidden cameras by the media

The use of hidden cameras by the media

More than typical are television programs in which, in order to investigate a particular topic, the journalist poses as a client or a third party with a hidden camera in order to get privileged information to offer the viewer. And in this sense, although it may not seem so, this use of the “hidden camera” is not always legal, and can lead to an illegitimate interference in the right to privacy and the image of the interviewee and, in certain cases, such as the one we will now see, also in his right to honour.

Recently, in 2019, the Constitutional Court overturned the Supreme Court’s ruling in a case that had clarified whether access by two journalists from a television station with a hidden camera to the office of a man (who was acting as a coach and mentor), posing as clients and pretending to be suffering from cancer, could infringe the right to privacy and the image of the interviewee;and furthermore his right to honour could have been violated by having been described as a “womanizer”, a “healer”, even being accused of carrying out therapies with “more than just caresses”.

The reasoning of our Constitutional Court is more than logical, recalling that not everything is valid for the exercise of freedom of information and, in these specific cases, where certain programmes use a hidden camera to extract information, “the legitimacy of the use of the hidden camera as a journalistic method” must follow certain weighting criteria to avoid “disproportionate and therefore unnecessary interference in people’s private lives”.

Strictly speaking, the Constitution stresses that the use of the hidden camera must be restrictive, used as a last resort and in accordance with ethical standards, noting that, in the case highlighted, its use was neither necessary nor proportionate to the task of providing information.

Clearly, if the objective of the media was limited to alerting potential and current customers to fraudulent and intrusive practices in the health field, it may well have employed other methods such as interviewing other customers, for example. In the words of the Constitutional Court, that purpose was “distorted” insofar as all the material focused on the specific actions of the plaintiff, without the material obtained “making it possible to conclude in a conclusive manner that he was engaging in clearly intrusive practices”.

Therefore, as of this year, the media that are regulars in the commission of this type of practice must take into account this new interpretation of the maximum interpreter of the Spanish Constitution, on pain of being immersed in civil or criminal proceedings for violation (at least) of the privacy and the image of the affected person.

Finally, let us remember that in order to carry out a certain informative activity, it is not necessary to carry out the practices specified in that matter, in which the privacy of the interviewee and his own image were clearly invaded, in addition to his right to honour, by making totally unnecessary and disproportionate vexatious statements.