Public interest or needless intrusion?

Date 13.11.2015

Matt Walsh, Senior Lecturer in Journalism and Media Studies gives his view on paparazzi behaviour.

A two-year old child is being stalked by adults who repeatedly take his picture without his parents’ permission.

They take pictures of him on the beach and at the park.

They’ve used other children to lure him into view at the playground.

They chase his family’s cars or lie hidden in the boots of other vehicles to capture his image without anyone knowing.

You would think these intrusive adults would be arrested but because of the child’s family’s status, the photographers escape criminal sanction and many make fortunes by selling pictures to adoring fans around the globe.

Welcome to the world of the paparazzi.

Long the Wild West of press photography, the paps’ extreme behaviour is back in the news after a complaint by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge about the treatment of Prince George.

After the death of Diana, Princess of Wales; killed in a car crash while being pursued by paparazzi photographers, British papers vowed to cut back on their use of such images. During subsequent years there’s been considerable criticism of titles such as the Daily Mail for slipping back into their old ways and buying up images of celebrities in private.

Just last year the children of the singer Paul Weller won damages from Associated Newspapers, publishers of theDaily Mail, after pictures of them on a beach were used online.

The rules that govern the newspapers’ behaviour are enshrined in the Editors’ Code. It clearly states that children should not be photographed without their permission nor should journalists engage in intimidation, harassment or pursuit.

Although no British publication has used the images that the Royal household complained about, without any substantial sanction there’s an ongoing temptation to publish first and pay later. And that’s because, as the Leveson Inquiry heard, there’s a global market for pictures of the Royals and large sums can be made quickly by unscrupulous individuals willing to behave in dangerous or unethical ways.

As the success of organisations such as Hacked Off has shown, there’s considerable public appetite for press reform. If the industry is unable to put its house in order, that may mean more pressure for tighter laws on privacy.

As demonstrated by the success of the “Sidebar of Shame” on the Mail Online, one of the world’s biggest news websites, we can’t seem to break our addiction to looking at pictures of celebrities when they’re off duty.

If we could, the paparazzi would be out of business.