Royal baby: Ensuring privacy will be a key test for regulator

With the Press Complaints Commission facing imminent demise, the machinery that has done much to secure privacy for Prince William and Kate is about to be dismantled.

Note: This article is from the Guardian.

Powered by article titled “Royal baby: ensuring privacy will be a key test for new press regulator” was written by David Banks, for on Wednesday 24th July 2013 08.34 UTC

With the multitude of cameras focused on the front door of the Lindo Wing, it is hard to imagine the baby, the future king, who will soon emerge from it will have any hope of privacy.

Once the furore over his birth has died down, his parents will be keen to keep their child out of the limelight.

However, with the Press Complaints Commission facing imminent demise, the machinery that has done much to secure privacy for Prince William in his childhood, and then Kate in turn when their engagement was announced, is about to be dismantled.

The PCC's replacement, whether it is the Independent Press Standards Organisation or the politicians' royal charter alternative, will have to negotiate the tricky question of press access to the heir to the throne.

This might be more difficult than it seems. While the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have been very visible on their own terms at pre-arranged press media appearances, they, or those looking after their PR, have been less accommodating when caught unawares.

When national newspapers were offered pictures of the royal couple walking on a public beach in Anglesey, they inquired of the royal press machine whether their use would be OK. No, came the very firm reply, it was a "private walk on a public beach" – a novel concept in UK privacy law and one yet to be given the seal of approval by any court. Nevertheless the pictures went unused.

Of course, the royal couple have more reason than most to realise how easy it is for their privacy to be invaded after a photographer snatched topless photographs of the duchess holidaying at a private villa in France last year.

While the PCC insists that it treats the royal family no differently from other individuals when it comes to the protection offered by the editors' code of practice, it has issued advisory notices to newspapers in the past to warn of harassment of Kate Middleton before she married Prince William. Such advisories have been issued in relation to other people, not just royalty, of course.

When Prince William celebrated his 18th birthday and left school, the PCC's then chairman, Lord Wakeham, made a speech in which he said the fact that the prince had been able to go through his school life free from press intrusion was a triumph of self-regulation by the industry. He made the point that the restraint was rewarded by regular access to the royal princes by way of press facilities.

It may well be that the new Prince of Cambridge needs a similar level of protection for his childhood. The question now is whether Ipso is up to the task.

It looks likely that Ipso will at least start with the PCC editors' code, which Lord Wakeham pointed out in 2000 would continue to protect Prince William as it did everyone else. The speech was made before, of course, the interception of the voicemail messages of one of William's aides led to the discovery of widespread phone hacking and ultimately the Leveson inquiry.

Therefore the privacy of the new prince will depend on a new regulator, perhaps Ipso, that is the result of a chain of events set in train by the hacking of a phone belonging to a member of the royal household, and whether it can impose a code that prevents the abuses of the past, not just of royalty, but ordinary people too.

How it protects the prince, and others seeking privacy in an age of new media, will be the regulator's first real test.

• David Banks is a journalist and media law consultant © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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