Freedom of the press is a damn sight more important than royal privacy.
Emily Hill on why the freedom of the press is a damn sight more important than royal privacy.
We all have our problems. In the East End, I live in a house that is currently without a shower or bath. And over in royal land, Prince William has thrown a hissy fit because he doesn’t want his photo taken.
I am afraid to say, even had my dear mother died of being unwashed, there is not a lawyer in the land who would think I had a case against my landlord. There is no Right to Shower. But when you’re the grandson of a multi-millionaire, a dashing military man about town, and according to the Divine Right of Kings, closer to God than all the rest of us plebs put together, you don’t have to confine yourself to private ranting at life’s little troubles. And so, unlike humble me, when Wills has a problem in his life he can assemble a team of lawyers in order to bully his way out of it. And currently, he doesn’t like getting chased down the road by a bunch of happy snappers – the kind who earn their living trying to get a picture of him falling out of a nightclub with his girlfriend, Kate Middleton.
You might think the resounding response to Wills and Kate’s collective snivelling would be something along the lines of: Next time, just sneak out of the back door if you don’t want to be snapped, Wills! Make sure you and your girl leave via separate entrances, Wills. Have a party at one of your palaces, Wills. Resign your claim to the throne, Wills. Lend us a few quid to kip at a Travelodge for a couple of nights, Wills.
But you’d be wrong.
Here is the story. Earlier this year, Prince William dumped his charming middle-class filly, Miss Middleton, amidst claims that her mother was once an air hostess who chewed gum. Comely Kate, who had herself, a matter of days before the split, been on the verge of taking legal action against paparazzi harassment, suddenly found she didn’t so much mind being splashed across the newspapers, after all. And so she was photographed virtually every day, looking sleeker, in a variety of game poses (brandishing tennis racket, grinning in M&S stripey number, coxing a ‘dragonboat’ with a bunch of other fillies) and suddenly it was all back on again. In fact, it had never been off.
Lud bless Prince William, he knows we love a happy ending. Still, they were careful not to be photographed together for fear of exciting us too much, afraid we might stampede Woolworths buying up those premature Wills’n’Kate commemorative tea towels. Until now. ‘According to sources close to the couple’, the Daily Telegraph explains, ‘Prince William remains “furious” that at least seven photographers pursued him and Miss Middleton in the early hours of Friday on motorbikes, scooters and in a car.’ And apparently he ‘finds it “incomprehensible” that the paparazzi should have been hounding them in the week that the inquest opened into the deaths 10 years ago of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, and her boyfriend. Photographers were pursuing the couple in Paris on August 31, 1997, when their car crashed in a tunnel.’ Some tabloids bowed to William’s fury, and voluntarily decided not to publish the nightclub photographs. Slavishness in the face of royalty is still around.
Now, first of all, it’s not going to take this inquest to establish that at the time of her crash Diana was almost completely without security (unlike in the case of William); she was being driven, over the speed limit, by a driver who was drunk; on impact, she wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, while the passenger who was (her sole bodyguard) survived. It is highly unlikely that Prince William was in any danger whatsoever, unless one considers ‘danger’ to be getting one’s slightly sozzled head splashed across the front page of the Daily Mail with some creepy headline about how glad the nation is that Wills might be about to make an honest woman of Kate. Hurrah! Where’s my Union Jack party popper set?
There have been various arguments put forward suggesting that the monarchy doesn’t ‘need’ the press in the same way that celebrities ‘need’ the press – and so the royals should only be photographed on their own terms. This is codswallop. If William wants to be King (and we can presume that he does, for the benefit of the tourism industry and national identity, that kind of thing), then he must expect to be photographed, frequently, and not always on his own terms. Diana would have been the first person to tell him that.
At the minute, Wills sounds like his father, Charles, who believes we should listen to his speeches on Islam and organic living purely on the basis of his being future King and then throws a hissy fit when he has to smile for press calls on his all-expenses-paid gad-about to some Continental ski resort – the same Charles who sees the United Kingdom as a sort of fiefdom, declaring on the advent of the hunting ban, ‘If I can’t hunt, I may as well just leave the country and go and live in Switzerland’.
If Wills doesn’t want to be photographed, I suggest he and Kate move to Switzerland. In a free country, as the UK claims to be, photographers should be allowed to take pictures of whomever they like, wherever they like (in public at least). That is one of the chief points of being a free country. If William wants a junta to close down the free press, perhaps we could hire him out as King of Burma?
If paparazzi are caught on the grounds at Sandhurst trying to rifle through Wills’ underwear drawer, or at Clarence House trying to scale a drain pipe, then by all means William can demand that they be prosecuted – and there’ll be no groundbreaking legal case necessary. But they haven’t. The paps tried to photograph Wills and Kate outside a posh London nightclub, and chased them down some posh London street. If we accept the idea that public streets can also be considered ‘private spaces’, in which photographers should not tread, and buy into the notion that the sensitivities of public figures should limit what can be photographed and discussed by the public, then the end result will be more restrictions on freedom of the press. You may not have any interest in seeing photos of Wills and Kate being not very interesting outside a nightclub, but you should be concerned about the potential longer-term impact on our open society of elevating privacy over public discussion.
Being famous can be a dreadful bore, but for the sake of the much more important freedom to photograph and write about the great and the good, we all have to accept our limits and put up with inconveniences – even princes of the realm.
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