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    Friday, 30 March 2007

    Press gang? Middleton makes privacy / harassment complaint to the PCC

    In what will be a significant test for the scheme of self-regulation of the Press, Kate Middleton - the girlfriend of Prince William - has made a complaint to the PCC regarding the actions of the Daily Mirror (1,2,3,4). The paper had published photographs, allegedly taken by paparazzi, of Ms Middleton on her way to work. The PCC Chairman - Sir Christopher Meyer - had brokered a deal with News International (Sun / News of the World / The Times / Sunday Times) and Hello! magazine which has seen them forego the use of paparazzi shots. Middleton's lawyers have since been active in sending warning letters to other publishers.

    The complaint is based upon clause 4 of the Editors' Code (interestingly, there has been no reference to clause 3 on privacy), which reads: i) journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit; ii) they must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on their property when asked to leave and must not follow them, and iii) editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources. These stipulations can be overridden if the respondent is able to demonstrate a public interest motivating its actions.

    The first question that must be answered by the PCC, or any other regulator, is whether there is any harm being caused here. While it may seem obvious that there is, there are different views on this. For example, in his recent book Privacy and the Press, Joshua Rozenburg opined that: 'if people really want to see pictures of a... princess riding a horse or doing the shopping, is that really such a bad thing? Sure, it doesn’t teach us anything about politics or the price of bread, but what harm does it do? Its just what happens when you’re a princess.' I'd be surprised if the PCC took this line, not least because Christopher Meyer said recently that 'she should be able to get in her car and drive to work without being harassed', and that her treatment has been 'grotesque'.

    Its been suggested that Middleton has much to lose if the ruling does not go her way. It might be replied that there is more at stake for the PCC. Should it not rule in her favour, Middleton has the option of going to law (conceivably using either the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, or the new-fangled breach of confidence / privacy tort) and presumably this is the final part of her lawyers' strategy of escalation in the face of Press intransigence. In that case, however, (and given the lingering public memory of the dreadful treatment of Princess Diana) the PCC may find itself standing on the steps outside, finally debarred from the Last Chance Saloon.


    Andrew Scott said...

    Perhaps understandably, the Mirror Group has come out fighting this morning. Publicly at least, however, its complaint seems focused more on the manner in which the 'other side' has proceeded. Its promising to make the appropriate representations tothe PCC.

    Andrew Scott said...

    One further afterthought to this post...

    Its worth noting that there was a sting in the tail of Christopher Meyer's comments on Middleton given in an interview with the Press Gazette last month. He implied that there would be occasions on which she would be fair game for the press, and offered the example of her coming out of a nightclub with Prince William, or perhaps more generally 'when the story moves on'. He also reiterated the notion that having to deal with the attention of the paparazzi was the 'price of fame'.

    This is a defensible position on the question of press interest, but importantly it doesn't accord too well with the attitude displayed by the ECtHR in the Caroline of Monaco case. It will be interesting to watch how future privacy cases at the PCC and in the courts play out, and how well they cohere.

    Anonymous said...

    The weekend press has reported widely that the Mirror has apologised for publishing the picture of Kate, and agreed that this was an error. MGN says they didn't appreciate it had been taken while she felt harassed and threatened.

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