Well here’s something interesting. Do you remember back in late-May when photos of Prince George playing on a police motorcycle came out? Well, Kate Middleton filed a complaint with the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) about the photos, claiming they are a breach of privacy, and the Ipso agreed with her.
Kate filed two complaints, one against Express.co.uk and one against OK!. Interestingly, the Daily Mail also published the photos (that article is gone now), but Kate did not file a complaint against them.
The Ipso rulings are public, so I’m going to quote the actual ruling. The two rulings are pretty much the same with only minor wording adjustments. You can read the OK! ruling here, I’m quoting the Express.co.uk ruling.
Summary of the complaint:
“HRH The Duchess of Cambridge and HRH Prince George of Cambridge complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Express.co.uk breached Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an online article headlined ‘Mummy, I’m a big boy now! Kate beams as cute George enjoys thrilling ride on police bike’, published on 25 May 2016.
“The article reported that two-year-old Prince George had been photographed sitting on a Metropolitan Police motorbike while his mother, the Duchess of Cambridge, looked on smiling. The article included an image of the scene, which had been captured in the grounds of Kensington Palace. The piece noted that similar pictures had been taken of Prince William and Prince Harry sitting on a police motorbike nearly 30 years ago.
“The complainants’ representatives said that the photograph had been taken in circumstances in which the Duchess of Cambridge and her two-year-old son had a reasonable expectation of privacy. They were engaged in a private activity; the images had been taken while they were on private, protected land where commercial photography is prohibited; and no permission for the images to be taken or published had been sought or obtained.
“The complainants’ representatives said that it was clear from the images that their clients had been unaware that they were being photographed, and that the photographs had been taken surreptitiously with a long-lens camera. They said that police officers had been in attendance nearby as a member of the Royal Family had been due to arrive by helicopter. The police officers had spoken to the photographer who was on a public pathway, and who had an ‘SLR-style camera with a large telephoto lens’. The photographer had claimed to be retired, and did not say that he intended to use, sell or provide photographs for publication. He was told not to take any photographs of the complainant or her son, who were waiting for the helicopter to land.
“The complainants’ representatives said that railings protected the land upon which the Duchess of Cambridge and her son had been standing when the images were taken. They noted that there are only a limited number of vantage points from which individuals within the grounds of the complainants’ home might be seen, and even then it is difficult with the naked eye because of the distance.
“The complainants’ representatives considered that individuals – and young children in particular – have a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding the details of private family activities, including in semi-public or public locations. They expressed particular concern that photographs of a young boy playing inside the grounds of his private home had been taken for commercial gain. The fact that he might have been visible to some individuals outside his home did not remove his reasonable expectation of privacy in such a situation. They said that no public interest was served by publishing the images.
“At the beginning of IPSO’s investigation, the newspaper said that the photographs had been taken by an agency photographer who had seen the interaction between the complainants and the police officers by chance as he returned from photographing the Trooping of the Colour. The photographer was not trespassing when the images were taken, and he had not used a long-lens camera. The newspaper acknowledged that the complainants had been standing on private land, but considered that they were clearly visible to the public. It did not consider that they could have had a reasonable expectation of privacy when they were ‘a matter of inches from the railings’ and clearly visible to all who passed by.
“At the end of IPSO’s investigation, the newspaper said that it had previously obtained the photographer’s version of events from the agency that had employed him; however, having made contact with the photographer directly, it had been given a different explanation. The photographer had said that he had been walking through the park on his way to the gym when he had happened to encounter armed police who were waiting for the arrival of members of the Royal Family by helicopter. He said that a large crowd had formed when he noticed Prince George, his mother and police officers. He said that he was 200 yards away when he photographed them with an 80mm-400mm camera.
“The newspaper denied that the images had shown the complainants in a private interaction. The police officers were photographed while on duty, and the newspaper considered that it was important for the public to see how young members of the Royal Family interacted with public servants, particularly when the officers had been ‘commandeered for a three-year-old’s entertainment’. It said that as an heir to the throne, Prince George was not in the position of an ‘ordinary child’; he was a subject of great public interest. It said that as public servants, the public has a right to know what members of the Royal Family are doing. It did not consider that the press should be prevented from publishing otherwise harmless photographs of them, taken within view of the public, which show something out of the ordinary.”
Findings of the Committee:
“The Committee acknowledged that – as members of the Royal Family – the complainants are public figures; however, they were photographed standing within the grounds of their private home, in a position that was not easily visible to the photographer; they were not carrying out any official duties, and they were unaware that they were being photographed. The photographer had himself acknowledged that he had used a long-lens camera to photograph the complainants who were standing 200 yards away from him. The Committee also noted that Prince George is a young child who had been engaged in a private interaction with his mother and police officers at the time the photographs were taken.
“The Committee noted that it was not being asked to decide whether an adult alone in these circumstances would have had a reasonable expectation of privacy. It was satisfied, however, that together the complainants had a reasonable expectation of privacy at the time they were photographed. The newspaper had not obtained their consent, and, as such, it was required to demonstrate that the photography was justified in the public interest.
“The Committee noted the newspaper’s position that there was a public interest in reporting how Prince George had engaged with public servants. However, the Committee did not accept that any public interest had been served by the publication of these images, which simply showed Prince George playing on a police motorbike.
“The Committee did not therefore accept that the newspaper had demonstrated a sufficient public interest to justify publication of the photographs. Any general public interest in the activities of the Royal Family was inadequate, particularly in the case of Prince George, given that the Code requires an exceptional public interest to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16. The complaint under Clause 2 was upheld.”
When I initially read about this in a BT article, I made comments on Twitter about the distinction between what is and isn’t classified as ‘public interest’, asking “Why are royal duties ‘public interest’ but the royals distracting police officers from their jobs not ‘public interest’?” But having read the actual complaint and ruling, I have more thoughts.
I still think it’s odd that certain parts of the royals’ lives are ‘public interest’ while others aren’t considering all parts of their lives are paid for by the public, but I also think it’s odd that the press claimed during the investigation that the photos were taken by a photographer returning from photographing Trooping of the Colour when the photos were taken and published three weeks prior to Trooping of the Colour. Clearly I do not know all of the details of the investigation, but it seems odd to me that they would claim that when it’s so obviously not the case, right? I wonder if that inconsistency played any part in the ruling.
I also think it’s interesting that Kate made a complaint about these photos when other photos of George watching helicopters from the grounds of Kensington Palace did not garner complaints. And why did Kate not complain about the Daily Mail when they published the complained-about photos, too?
I’m also wondering what constitutes a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’. If I were to stand in my backyard a few feet back from the side gate, which is in full view of the road in front of my house (I don’t have a privacy fence), I don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy at that point even though I’m on private property, right? If I were to open my bedroom window and stand in front of it, which is also in full view of the road in front of my house, would I have a reasonable expectation of privacy then since I’m inside my house or would I not since I know that my bedroom window is in full view of the public road and I have my window open? Even if I’m on private property, if people can see me from a public road with ease, then I don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy, right? These are genuine questions.
I’m wondering what part of the Kensington Palace grounds Kate and George were on when these photos were taken. The photographer claims he was walking back from the gym, and claims Kate and George were outside to watch the helicopter land. Kate and George were visible so they must not have been in their private garden, right? Parts of Kensington Palace are open to the public, so parts of the grounds around Kensington Palace must be open to the public, too. Which parts? Were Kate and George on one of those parts that is open to the public? The ruling did not say where they were standing nor mentioned which parts of the property are open to the public and which parts are private property. Even if they were on private property, if they were visible from a public road how much reasonable expectation of privacy do they have? I don’t want to victim-blame here, but I would think that if you’re in an area where you know you are visible from a public road, even if you’re on private property, you can’t really think you have a reasonable expectation of privacy – there isn’t some magic force field that surrounds private property which people cannot see through (unless there is a literal wall around the private property which people cannot see through, but then we wouldn’t be having this conversation). Like I said, if I’m in my backyard and can clearly see the public road in front of my house, then I can’t expect privacy even though I’m on private property, right? Maybe Kate didn’t know she and George were visible from a public road where she was standing and that’s why the ruling went in her favor? Or the public versus private parts of Kensington Palace were not clearly defined? I don’t know enough about the situation to say.
I kind of understand why William and Kate may prefer living at Anmer Hall over Kensington Palace, because they are surrounded by public areas and unless they stay in their (actually very large) private garden they can be seen by anyone, so they almost never have a reasonable expectation of privacy when outside their home. I can understand why that would suck for them. But at the same time, the ‘normal’ people they claim to want to be so badly don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy outside their homes either, you know.
I wonder how this ruling will affect royal-press relations moving forward. The press certainly won’t he happy about this when photos of the Cambridge children on Kensington Palace grounds keep popping up in non-British publications and William and Kate don’t bat an eye.
I’m also wondering why disembarking/boarding a plane or attending a children’s party with military families is considered ‘public interest’ but distracting police officers from their jobs just to satisfy a royal’s whim is not. How hilarious would it be if the press decided not to photograph George or Charlotte while in Canada, completely negating the entire reason why William and Kate decided to bring them? I mean, it would suck because we wouldn’t get any photos of the kids, but it would also be pretty hilarious. Is that too mean to say?