Prince Harry’s recent naked holiday photos were this morning printed in The Sun. A legal question has now been presented which may impact on freedom of the press in a wider context.
The Press Complaints Commission is charged with enforcing the Editors’ Code of Practice, which states in its opening:
‘All members of the press have a duty to maintain the highest professional standards. The Code … sets the benchmark for those ethical standards, protecting both the rights of the individual and the public’s right to know.’
It then goes on to list the rules of the code, and under the heading ‘Privacy’ states:
‘i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.
ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual’s private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant’s own public disclosures of information.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent.
Note – Private places are public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.’
It would seem that printing the pictures breaches the code, especially under the third section; Prince Harry’s hotel suite would qualify as a ‘private place’. The action of printing them therefore needs justification, and The Sun rightly published its reasoning and therefore defence.
It argues that the pictures were readily available, as they are found on TMZ, and that as everyone with internet has access to them the need for debate about this situation (involving Harry’s privacy, security and behaviour for a third in line to the throne) also needs the pictures to be published.
While this argument would be difficult to defend, The Sun’s other argument could be seen as its leverage in what will undoubtedly become a court case:
‘We believe printing the photos IS within the Press Complaints Commission’s code, based on a previous PCC ruling in favour of a UK magazine which published pictures already widely seen online.
On that occasion the PCC said that in privacy matters its code “required the Commission to have regard to the extent to which material is already in the public domain”.
It concluded: “The Commission felt that the images were so widely established for it to be untenable for the Commission to rule that it was wrong for the magazine to use them.”’
For now the pictures are out there, legal teams on all sides will be questioning the current situation and the other papers will try to work out whether they can join suit. Naked photos of Prince Harry will boost short-term sales but the fallout may prove to be more costly.