What’s to stop a British paper from publishing pictures?

The decision by an Australian magazine editor to publish “baby bump” pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge raises a debate about privacy.

Note: This article is from the Guardian.


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “What’s to stop a British paper from publishing pictures of the duchess?” was written by Roy Greenslade, for guardian.co.uk on Wednesday 13th February 2013 12.26 UTC

The decision by an Australian magazine editor to publish “baby bump” pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge raises a debate about privacy that has become much more confusing in our post-Leveson world.

According to Fiona Connolly, editor of Woman’s Day, the duchess (formerly Kate Middleton) was pictured in a bikini on a public beach on the island of Mustique by a someone who was not a paparazzo. Other people were present.

I cannot be certain whether she is correct, but let’s assume that she is. If so, under the current editors’ code of practice in Britain, it would surely be possible to publish them in a UK publication.

Though the palace has been quoted as describing the publication of the pictures in the Italian magazine, Chi, as “a clear breach of the couple’s right to privacy”, is that really the case?

If the couple were indeed in public then, to quote from the code, they could not be said to have “a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

It would therefore appear that, should a British paper dare to publish, and a formal complaint was then made to the Press Complaints Commission, it would escape censure.

But hang on. It isn’t as simple as that because the PCC has been here before and by here, I mean Mustique, bikinis and beaches.

In 2006, the Australian actress Elle Macpherson complained to the PCC about Hello! magazine publishing a bikini-clad picture of her on one of the island’s beaches. Her lawyers argued that all of Mustique’s beaches were private and that she therefore imagined she was in a private place.

In its ruling, the PCC accepted that the beach was only technically private – because it was accessible to members of the public – but took the opinion that Macpherson had been seeking privacy and genuinely believed she had obtained it. So the commission decided that her “reasonable expectation” was well founded and ruled on her behalf against the magazine.

It was an interesting case because it amounted to a change of direction from a PCC ruling made in 2000 when Anna Ford complained about being pictured on a Majorcan beach in the belief that it was private. The commission found against Ford, a decision that so upset her she tried unsuccessfully to challenge it in court.

My hunch is that no British paper or magazine will tempt fate at this moment – with parliament yet to decide on the form of the new press regulator – by buying the pictures of the pregnant duchess.

It is true that the Sun did risk the palace’s wrath by publishing the pictures of Prince Harry naked in a Las Vegas hotel last August. But it justified that by claiming it was in the public interest.

I can’t see the public interest defence working for the duchess. Then again, I would love to see that all-Mustique-beaches-are-private claim put to the test. Can it really be so?

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