• Sat
  • Aug 23, 2014
  • Updated: 7:14pm
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MEDIA

British media organisations criticise Google for blocking sensitive articles

British newspapers, BBC complain that sensitive articles blocked following EU court ruling giving people the right to be 'forgotten'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 July, 2014, 1:11am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 July, 2014, 9:10am

Google has restricted access to a BBC blog posting and several British newspaper stories under a legal ruling by the EU's top court granting people a right to be "forgotten" in search engines, it emerged yesterday.

Among the stories removed was the Daily Mail's story about a Muslim man who accused Hong Kong airline Cathay Pacific of refusing to employ him because of his name.

The Daily Mail reported in 2011 that Salim Zakhrouf, who was born in Algeria, was offered an interview by the carrier days later after he applied again, using a white, British-sounding name.

After the Daily Mail reported the story, Alison Loftin, the airline's UK personnel manager, wrote an apology letter to Zakhrouf and offered a meeting.

The Guardian newspaper also said it had been notified that six links to its stories had been removed from search results, three of them about a 2010 controversy involving a now-retired Scottish Premier League referee.

The newspaper said it was given no reason and had no appeal against the decision, the result of a ruling by the European Court of Justice in May that the paper said was a "huge, if indirect, challenge to press freedom".

BBC economics editor Robert Peston complained that Google had "killed this example of my journalism" after being informed that a 2007 posting about former Merrill Lynch chairman Stan O'Neal had been removed from certain searches in Europe.

The court ruled that individuals had the right to have links to information about them deleted from searches in certain circumstances.

Google, the world's leading search engine, said that each request would be examined individually to determine whether it met the ruling's criteria.

Mail Online, the world's biggest news site, said it had received notification that links to a story about the same Scottish referee, Dougie McDonald, had been removed from certain searches.

Other restricted stories included one about a couple caught having sex on a train.

"These examples show what a nonsense the right to be forgotten is. It is the equivalent of going into libraries and burning books you don't like," said Martin Clarke, the publisher of Mail Online. He said the website would regularly publish lists of articles removed from Google's European search results, while the BBC and The Guardian also published links to the restricted stories.

The links remain visible on Google.com the US version of the site, and the restrictions only appear to relate to certain search terms.

A commentary in The Guardian noted that a search for Dougie McDonald no longer brought up its story on the site Google.co.uk but a search for "Scottish referee who lied" worked fine.

According to the story, McDonald was found to have lied about his reasons for granting a penalty in a match between Celtic and Dundee United.

Google told the BBC that it had since received 50,000 requests for articles to be removed, although they remain anonymous.

A company spokeswoman said: "We have recently started taking action on the removals requests we've received after the European Court of Justice decision.

"This is a new and evolving process for us. We'll continue to listen to feedback and will also work with data protection authorities and others as we comply with the ruling," she said.

Several German media outlets contacted yesterday said they had not yet received notifications on articles scrubbed from search results.

Google finds itself in an uncomfortable position. It has no choice but to comply with the ruling, which cannot be appealed, but many decisions to remove search results are likely to draw criticism.

Proponents of the court decision say it gives individuals the possibility to restore their reputation by deleting references to old debts, past arrests and other unflattering episodes.

They also note that the court specified Google should not remove links to information when the public's right to know about it outweighs an individual's right to privacy - for example when a politician or public figure seeks to clean records that are available online.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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